For the past several months, the House Agriculture Committee has opposed any and all attempts to make substantial changes to farm programs. Members of the committee hate proposals to substantially revise farm programs supported by those not on the committee , and it appears a majority of the committee members won't even support common-sense payment limitations of the sort proposed by leading members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. And in subcommittee work a few weeks ago, a five-year extension of current farm programs was passed.
Now committee chairman Collin Peterson has released his “mark” of the farm bill that will be considered by the full House Agriculture Committee next week. When it came to farm programs, his mark is a continuation of the 2002 bill, with very minor tweaks. There is nothing included on payment limitations, not even the mild proposal that was contained in his original mark for the subcommittee (which was rejected in favor of an extension).
Given the difficulties faced by small and mid-sized family farms, it is hard to believe that all of the members of the House Agriculture Committee truly believe current farm programs can’t be improved upon. And in a little-noticed announcement, one member of the committee is standing up and saying the time for effective payment limits is now. Jeff Fortenberry, Republican of Nebraska, put out a press release last week:
Washington D.C.- Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has urged the House Agriculture Committee to adjust farm payment limitations and curb excesses of the current system. The Committee is in the process of completing its 2007 Farm Bill proposal…
“Effective payment limitations should be a part of this Farm Bill,” Fortenberry said. “I believe the Agriculture Committee has the responsibility and opportunity to affect this change.”
"An effective payment limitation system may also allow savings to be redirected to help new emerging trends in agricultural diversification, ag-based energy production, and conservation efforts,” Fortenberry said. “If the agriculture leaders don't embrace this change, it may be imposed from without. Legislative attempts have been made already to rewrite farm legislation outside of the normal committee structure.”
"America's farm policy has helped create the strongest agricultural system in the world. However, our farmers deserve responsible, meaningful reform consistent with the best of our family farm traditions."
Good for Jeff Fortenberry, who also happens to represent the home office here in Lyons, Nebraska.
Politically, this is an important step. Finally, a member of the House Agriculture Committee has stepped up and said we need effective payment limitations. We have yet to see how this translates into legislative action down the road. I hope that he can find a Democrat to show some leadership as well, because this is not and should not be seen as a partisan issue. On the issue of payment limits, Fortenberry is representing the wishes of his constituents and doing the right thing for family farms and rural communities. It’s about time other members of the Agriculture Committee did the same.