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February 2002

Farm Bureau's Top Issues in 2002

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Many people make New Year's resolutions in January and forget them by February. For Farm Bureau, in January we adopted policies directing our national and international actions and we are already working to put our policy goals into action. To better focus our efforts, our AFBF Board of Directors identified several major topics as priority issues. One of the first up is the creation of new farm program legislation in Congress.

For more than two years, AFBF has been active in promoting new legislation that will protect flexibility in farm programs, offer an effective counter-cyclical safety net and promote the use of renewable, farm-grown alternative energy. These basic themes are evident in many of the proposed pieces of legislation in the House and the Senate, and are supported by the Bush administration. We appreciate the administration's commitment to budget $73.5 billion over the next 10 years to fund a farm program – we hope a farm program that offers opportunity, stability and management certainty. We Farm Bureau members and leaders will need to keep in contact with our elected leaders. We must keep them informed of what is happening back on the farm and what needs to happen in Washington to promote profitability and productivity.

Beginning this month, we see various Farm Bureau activities designed to help us explain agriculture and spotlight our accomplishments. As far as informing our elected leaders, many state Farm Bureaus will be coming to Washington this month to talk issues and goals. This activity is crucial to implementing our member-written policies. In addition, our advisory committees are meeting in the nation's capital for the first time I can remember, and they will add their expertise to the informational effort.

More to Farming than Farm Programs

Another important informational tool is the AFB Women's Committee's Food Check-Out Day, which marks the point in the year when an average wage earner has made enough to pay for the family's food supply for the year. This year's date is February 8, one day more than last year's – which is more the result of labor, transportation and marketing cost increases than commodity prices, I imagine. To compare, people have to work into May to get enough pay to cover their tax obligations. While we can acknowledge that paying taxes is a privilege, we can also boast that food is affordable. People in the United States pay a little over 10 percent of their income for food, which is, in large part, a result of our hard work and the stability of our federal farm programs. Our goal is to protect our food-producing ability through sound policies that result in a safe, affordable and wholesome food supply while providing profits to the producer.

Where else will Farm Bureau volunteers be active, besides securing sound farm program legislation? We will continue to concentrate on promoting effective environmental practices and voluntary, incentive-based programs. We will work with the administration to implement science-based regulations and assure producer access to safe, effective and economical crop protection products. Farm Bureau also will work to see that any federal water quality and availability regulations imposed on agricultural are legally valid and scientifically necessary.

Tax reform also will be high on Farm Bureau members' chore lists. We need to make sure that estate taxes disappear by 2010, as the law says, and that no political shenanigans bring the "Death Tax" back to life. We will also seek legislation that permits farmers to put pre-tax dollars into accounts that can be tapped when times are bad. And, we will begin a drive to reform the capital gains tax, a tax that is based on inflation and debases productivity.

Concentrated Efforts will Spread Benefits

In addition to averting unnecessary expenses, Farm Bureau will promote expanding our access to international markets and our profit potential. We have to export about 25 percent of what we produce to maintain our current efficiency. With higher yielding varieties and specialty products enhanced through biotechnology near the mouth of the development pipeline, the pressure to export more can only intensify. Without exports, we will suffocate under our own production, hastening agricultural consolidation and the weakening of rural America.

Our AFBF Board identified other front-burner issues and policy goals, involving availability of trained labor, transportation of farm commodities, the need for programs that encourage conservation rather than preservation, and others important to farm and ranch families throughout America. To prove they are important to us, we must convince the politicians, consumers, reporters and others who we coexist with and who are so influential in our lives and to our livelihoods.