“We’re still a long way from having a new farm bill, and even this bill won’t solve every problem,” Smith said. “But it is a step in the right direction. The House bill is a very good bill and would help provide much-needed market stability and financial assistance to America’s agricultural producers.”
House Resolution 2646, titled the Farm Security Act of 2001, passed by a nearly three-to-one margin (291-120) Oct. 5. The bill would replace the 1996 Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform (FAIR) Act, which expires late next year.
The FAIR Act or Freedom to Farm has drawn substantial criticism for failing to provide an adequate safety net to help producers survive cycles of low market prices or weather-related disasters. In the last four years, Congress has appropriated more than $25 billion in disaster assistance to shore up the ailing farm economy.
“The debate over any farm bill is always contentious, and this bill has been no exception,” said Smith, “but I think the House has crafted a very good piece of legislation that will address what many producers are struggling with, and that’s a return to profitability.”
Smith praised the National Cotton Council and other agricultural groups for their leadership roles in working with congressional representatives to convey the needs of their constituents.
“The House has certainly been listening to the plight of America’s agricultural producers,” he said, “and while we recognize the Bush administration has had its focus on some very serious issues since Sept. 11, we’ve been trying to get some relief for months on the federal government’s strong dollar policy, and those concerns have been falling on deaf ears.”
He said the strong dollar is a major factor in current low commodity prices. A strong U.S. currency makes U.S. products more costly for foreign buyers and stifles exports. It also encourages foreign cotton growers to increase production.
On the domestic side, the strong dollar encourages imports of finished goods and has been devastating for the U.S. textile industry.
“The House-passed bill would give growers a decent chance to overcome this disastrous situation,” said Smith.
The House action may put pressure on the Senate to begin moving on a farm bill, leading to passage of legislation in time for the 2002 crops. Or the Senate may delay action until next year.
“We just don’t know,” said Smith. “But this first hurdle was a critical one, and I’m confident the process will move ahead in a timely manner.”