Friday, May 16, 2008

Farm Bill passes House & Senate

The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, the farm bill conference agreement, has been passed by the House and Senate and will now be sent to the White House. Portions of the farm bill of interest to Green Industry participants include the following:

Specialty Crop Research Initiative: The bill provides $230 million in mandatory funds for this new grants program to help meet the needs of producers and processors of specialty crops in the areas of mechanization, plant breeding, genetics, genomics, pests and diseases, and food safety.

Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program: $15 million in mandatory funds for the program, which provides technical assistance and small loans to beginning entrepreneurs to help start businesses in rural areas.

Rural Water and Wastewater: $120 million in mandatory funds for the pending rural development loan and grant applications for rural water and wastewater assistance.

Pest and Disease Detection: Over $400 million over the next ten years for a new program to improve our pest and disease detection capabilities. The bill also provides $20 million for the National Clean Plant Network, which will strengthen our research to improve plant health and eradicate plant viruses.

Organics: Funding for The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program has been increased from $5 million in the last farm bill, to $22 million. The farm bill also supports the Organic Data Collection Initiative, which provides USDA and organic producers with national production and market data to effectively market their products.

Energy: The farm bill will accelerate commercialization of advanced biofuels, like cellulosic ethanol, by providing grants and loan guarantees to support these new biorefineries, and by increasing bioenergy research to guarantee that we have a continuing flow of more productive and resource-conservative technologies in the decades to come.

It also expands the very successful renewable energy and energy efficiency program that has been helping our farmers and ranchers and rural small businesses since it was adopted in the 2002 farm bill.

The farm bill has received MUCH attention (criticism) due to the fact that commodity prices are high, food prices are high, and the general public has no clue as to nature of the underlying economics and food security issues surrounding the farm (and consumer) programs included in the farm bill.

America has had, and continues to have, the cheapest and safest food supply in the world. But all bets are off as far as public support of agriculture just as soon as any detectable increase in food prices is detected. Then big, bad "rich" farmers are to blame. This is the same reasoning as I have posted earlier regarding the supply/demand issues surrounding gasoline prices (see Melodrama and Villains post).

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