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December 2003

A Banner Year (Still) Hangs In The Balance

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

Farmers and ranchers always like to examine their financial bottom lines as the year winds down. The American Farm Bureau Federation also likes to take stock of our progress, but even as this calendar year is drawing to a close, it still looks a little early for us to fully gauge the progress we have made in 2003.

Thanks to the stellar work of our state Farm Bureaus and our grassroots members across this nation, AFBF has come a long way this year on a number of important public policy issues. Many of our year-end victories, however, are yet to be realized.

As I write this column, lawmakers in Washington still have not quite wrapped up their work for the first year of the 108th Congress. Normally, they would have finished their work by now, which would have made it easier for me to write with finality about the outcome of some of our legislative efforts on behalf of America's farm and ranch families.

But, even if the fate of some bills remains unresolved when Congress breaks, lawmakers will pick up right where they left off when they return to Washington early next year. That's why I am looking down the road with a high degree of optimism.

I can tell you with certainty that protecting the integrity of the 2002 farm bill through the appropriations process is one of AFBF's greatest priorities. Whenever and wherever possible, we strive to accurately present agriculture's viewpoint throughout the process. As of this writing, funding for most major programs in the farm bill remained intact. But, this is a battle we will have to fight each and every year. We will be ready.

We also appear on-track to reform what our studies show is a failed U.S. energy policy, which is perhaps the single largest cause for the nation's current energy and natural gas crisis. AFBF estimates the current policy resulted in you paying between $1 billion and $2 billion more in 2003 just to plant your crops.

With that in mind, AFBF devoted considerable resources to securing an energy bill that will keep fertilizer, natural gas and other farm inputs at affordable prices. Finding new markets for homegrown fuels like ethanol and biodiesel is also a continuing priority. House-Senate conferees approved a conference report on the bill and the full House approved the measure. Unfortunately, the Senate did not approve the bill before adjourning for the year, leaving a lump of coal for farmers this Christmas.

Important new legislation that would protect our nation's federally owned forests is now awaiting the president's signature. Although it took three years for the Healthy Forests Act to make it out of both houses of Congress and onto the president's desk, we believe it expedites priority forest reduction projects. The legislation also will provide relief for rural communities that have been on the front lines and at risk whenever devastating wildfires break out.

The CARE Act of 2003 is another piece of legislation that remains in limbo due to a temporary roadblock related to the House-Senate conference on the bill. AFBF worked hard to ensure passage of the bill in the House and Senate. Once the political arguments die down we're confident this bill will successfully make its way through the conference report process.

The CARE Act will create incentives to allow all farmers and ranchers to deduct the costs and value of food donated to hunger-relief charities, regardless of how their farming business is organized. We estimate the amount of food provided to needy people will increase by 878 million new meals over the next 10 years.

With your help, we can push these issues across the finish line, either this month or early in 2004. I am confident, however, that at least one or two of these packages will be gift-wrapped in time for the holiday season.