Montana Farmers Union

Testimony of

Alan Merrill, President

on the

2012 Farm Bill

presented to

U.S. House Committee on Agriculture

Collin Peterson, Chairman

Field Hearing

Cheyenne, WY

May 4, 2010


Congressman Peterson and members of the committee: Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on Farm Bill possibilities for Montanas agricultural producers. My name is Alan Merrill, and I am President of the Montana Farmers Union. I want to thank you for holding this hearing, and we look forward to working with you as the development of the 2012 Farm Bill moves forward.

As you may know, Montana Farmers Union is an organization whose policies originate from the ground up. Our producer members develop our policy every year at our convention. I’d like to share some of their concerns and goals with you today.

One of our first policy charges is to work to promote a price balance between sales and cost of farm operations. A priority for the 2012 Farm Bill should be profitability for our country’s farmers and ranchers: a policy that allows farmers to earn their income from the market and assures them a safety net during times of low commodity prices and/or rising costs of production.

We believe that farm policy should provide a meaningful measure of price protection, be targeted toward family farmers and ranchers, and ensure competition in the marketplace.

It is our belief that the next Farm Bill should include provisions to ensure that farmers, ranchers and rural communities will be a part of an economic climate that will permit family-based agriculture to flourish.

  • We believe the primary goal of commodity programs should be to provide economic stability and opportunities for producers. We suggest a farm income safety net that uses counter-cyclical payments indexed to the cost of production to support family farmers during periods of low commodity prices;
  • The next Farm Bill should continue to fine-tune programs designed to assist farmers and ranchers to develop and implement conservation cost-share programs;
  • A competition title that addresses current anti-trust practices and ensures anti-trust laws will be enforced;
  • A renewable energy title that makes energy independence a national priority—one that puts farmer, rancher and community ownership of renewable energy first; one that encourages value-added projects, including biofuels and farmer and community-owned wind energy;
  • A rural development title that helps farmers, ranchers and rural communities develop economic opportunities for the betterment of rural America ; and
  • The bill needs a strong nutrition title that provides basic food and nutrition needs for all citizens in need and enhances increased development and delivery of community-based food and local agriculture systems.

Fuels from the Farm

Energy is vital to securing our nation’s needs for food and fiber. Montana Farmers Union supports a balanced, comprehensive energy policy that seeks energy independence for the United States , protects our nation’s environment and recognizes the special needs of America ’s agricultural sector.

Renewable energy from farm-generated operations continues to provide opportunities in farm country. Montana Farmers Union members believe the economic benefits made possible through renewable energy projects should remain in our rural communities. Many times in our state’s history we have seen large corporate investments draw the wealth out with little or no reinvestment in the local economy. We urge the committee to ensure that USDA rural development and other programs that are developed for renewable fuels give a competitive advantage to farmer-owned and locally owned efforts.

Energy, economic development, national security and environmental quality are inextricably linked. Home-grown energy solutions offer tremendous potential for farmers and ranchers to capture more income; for rural communities to prosper, and for the nation to lessen its dependence on foreign oil.

Conservation Investments

Montana Farmers Union policy advocates for conservation funding to include soil, water, and energy as responsible economic investment avenues now and into the future. Conservation programs should be good for the environment, reward stewardship, discourage speculative development of fragile land resources, strengthen family farming and enhance rural communities.

Competition

One thing that has not changed through the years is the vulnerability of agriculture producers to anticompetitive conduct.

Consolidation in rail transportation, for example, has injured Montana’s “captive” grain farmers who are served by one dominant railroad. According to the USDA, rail rates for grains and oilseeds have increased 73 percent since 2003 and rail rates in 2008 for grains and oilseeds were 81 percent higher than rates for all other commodities. A recent report by Montana’s Attorney General’s Office found that Montana’s captive grain shippers have been charged $19 million more annually by the single monopoly railroad serving the state than grain shippers in more competitive transportation markets.

Montana Farmers Union’s agriculture producers strongly urge that all federal agencies enforce current antitrust laws, and that Congress take the necessary steps to review and reform antitrust regulations where necessary to prevent abuse of captive shippers


Trade

Free trade and fair trade are incongruent terms in today’s world. Montana Farmers Union believes that our current trade agenda does not provide opportunities for farmers to make a profit from the marketplace. Trade negotiations must include labor standards, environmental standards and address currency manipulation situations.

Nutrition and Local Food Systems

We do not believe that there should be hungry people when we have such a capacity to produce safe, nutritious food. We support strong and fully funded nutrition and food programs.

Specifically, we support current programs being developed within USDA that support and promote common-sense solutions for community-based food systems such as the popular Know Your Farmer; Know Your Food initiative, and grant programs for specialty crops, beginning farmers, rural cooperative development, value-added ventures, and farmers’ market nutrition for seniors and women, infants and children.

We believe in the need to promote local food systems based on cooperative business models in order to reverse the trend of the rural exodus to urban centers and from food deserts back to food self-sufficiency.

At about the same time that USDA announced its pilot Hoop House initiative, Montana Farmers Union awarded its own grant for a hoop house to a newly formed Agricultural Academy at a public high school district in our state. It is programs such as these that help put students and parents in touch with knowledge of where some of their food comes from and helps forge a link between consumers and the farmers and ranchers who grow and raise the food we all enjoy.

In conclusion, we support a 2012 Farm Bill that will help farmers, ranchers and rural Montanans make a profit from the market. The family farm is the keystone of a free, progressive society, as well as a strong America . Farm policy needs to recognize and build on the strength of our nation’s agriculture. Every politician, voter, taxpayer, environmentalist, and consumer needs to realize independent family farmers are by far the best stewards of the land and animals.

Federal agricultural policy, with strong conservation, food and energy components, that prioritizes the interests of independent family farmers and ranchers, is vital to the people on the land and to our country.

It is my hope that the committee will keep these proposals in mind as it works to prepare future farm policy. We look forward to working with you to achieve these goals.

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, again I thank you for holding this hearing and for the opportunity to testify.

Alan Merrill, President

Montana Farmers Union, Great Falls, MT 59403 mfu@montanafarmersunion.com

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