|News From |
Congressman Earl Pomeroy
U.S. House of Representatives * Washington, D.C. 20015 * (202) 225-2611
It's Time for Congress to Make Farmers a Priority
Congressman Earl Pomeroy
August 9, 1999
For several years North Dakota producers have been suffering from a crisis of record-low prices, bad weather conditions and farm policies with little protection when times are tough. Now that producers in the Northeast and other regions of the country are hurting from one of the worst droughts of this century, the national media is discovering what we in North Dakota have known all along: real changes in the farm program must be enacted to keep producers from leaving the land in record numbers.
The Senate's recent approval of $7.4 billion in aid for farmers hit by depressed crop prices opened the door for the House to join in the emergency relief effort. As the drought losses increase in other areas of the country and growers in our region experience losses from flooded land, the aid package will have to be increased. Yet, unbelievably, the House failed to complete any action on the emergency package before leaving town for the August break. The delay on the farm aid is absolutely inexcusable.
When Congress resumes its business in September, the ag emergency bill should be the very first legislation considered. As farmers in our region are completing harvest, they deserve a commitment from lawmakers to put the farm crisis at the top of the agenda. The first day back in Washington, Congress should build on the Senate package and send the farm aid home to help producers make ends meet during this disaster.
While the emergency legislation will help stop the exodus from the farm this year, producers want more than last-minute band-aids. The reason farmers desperately need the second round of disaster assistance in two years is because the farm program provides no protection when prices collapse. We need a dependable safety net, including price protection restored in the farm program.
Although we take little comfort in benefitting from others' tragedies, the fact that the crisis is spreading to other regions of the country makes long-term changes in the farm program more likely. One real area of agreement between Democrats and Republicans is the improvements to the crop insurance program included in the "Agriculture Risk Protection Act," which was approved this past week by a bipartisan vote in the House Agriculture Committee.
As a member of the Ag Committee and the only former state Insurance Commissioner in Congress, I worked with members of both parties to successfully include provisions allowing farmers to purchase higher crop insurance coverage at an affordable price. The Agriculture Risk Protection Act contains increased premium discounts, giving farmers a better bang for their buck. In fact, under the bill, North Dakota producers would save more than $20 million on insurance premiums while receiving more meaningful protection.
The legislation also helps farmers hit by repeated losses to receive higher crop insurance coverage. In the past, low yields from conditions beyond a farmer's control could result in less crop insurance protection. The bill provides a floor below which a farmer's production history may not drop. Because the provision is retroactive, farmers who have had coverage levels reduced from poor production in the past will be able to regain a better production history, helping them retain higher levels of crop insurance coverage. The Act now heads for a vote on the House floor in early September, where it is likely to be passed overwhelmingly.
In advancing crop insurance reform, I've worked hard to build a reform proposal agreed to by Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, and many other agriculture groups. The success of this approach again affirms that we get a lot more done when we join together rather than pulling apart. I will continue working hard to develop consensus policies as we push for other changes in the farm program.
Another important long-term fix is the treatment of ag in our country's trade policy. Of particular importance this fall is the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle. For far too long, producers have been an afterthought in world trade negotiations, paying the price for other industries to achieve their trade objectives.
Together, Senator Byron Dorgan and I have formed a bipartisan House-Senate caucus to develop a United States trade strategy that works for our farmers. We intend to keep the heat on our trade negotiators to make certain that this time family farmers aren't forgotten. Our interests should be paramount in trade agreements so that America's producers truly benefit from expanded world markets. We'll work to deliver a producer-friendly agenda for use at the upcoming WTO meeting, which is the starting point for a new round of multilateral negotiations.
Now is the time to capitalize on national interest in the farm crisis. After returning from the August break, Congress should immediately pass needed disaster legislation and then turn to approving the crop insurance act agreed on by the House Ag Committee. Beyond those immediate legislative items, Congress should at last consider long-range changes in farm policy. Farmers have waited too long to be a national priority; it's time for Congress to act.