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April 5, 2007

Boosting Farm Income Top Concern At AG Forum Fair Trade, Conservation, Health Care Also BIG

(GREEN BAY) Congressman Steve Kagen, M.D. listened intently as over 60 farmers discussed what they’d like to see in the 2007 Farm Bill at a public forum in Green Bay on Thursday.

Kagen is the sole Wisconsin representative assigned to the House Agriculture Committee. As Congress takes up the landmark farm legislation, Kagen serves on subcommittees key to Wisconsin agriculture: Livestock, Dairy and Poultry; Operations, Oversight and Forestry; and Conservation, Credit and Energy.

“Agriculture is the backbone of our economy and our culture in Wisconsin,” Kagen said. “We need positive change and a new direction in our farm policy to make certain our family farms continue to survive and prosper.”

Maintaining farm income was the number one concern at the forum. Bernie Vanderheiden, an Outagamie County dairy farmer and a board member of the Manitowoc Milk Coop, echoed a popular sentiment saying, “The milk support price is needed, but it could be more effective. My advice is fix it, don’t end it.”

Similarly, Wisconsin dairy producers say California should be tied into the milk order system so they’re competing on a level playing field.

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for agricultural products drew unanimous support from the crowd, as did legislation to allow interstate sales of beef and pork processed at state-inspected processing plants.

The need for fair trade agreements to protect American farm income also came up. Kelly Haverkamp of Wisconsin Rural Partners said Congress needs to be involved in negotiating trade agreements to make certain they are a good deal for Wisconsin farmers. Will Hughes from the Wisconsin Agriculture Department discussed the Market Access Program, a program to increase agricultural exports.

Rising health care costs are hitting farmers, just as they are hitting everyone else today. Dr. Kagen discussed his commitment to lowering health care costs through market-driven competition and by bringing all citizens into a single insurance risk pool, or buying group.

Kagen asked about barriers to entry and the need for reasonable interest rates to encourage people to go into farming. Dean Strauss, a young dairy farmer and member of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s Farm Bill Advisory Board advocated a better incentive program for young farmers trying to get a start in agriculture.

Strauss noted a lot of farmers’ wealth is tied up in assets and they take a tax hit when they try to transfer it to the next generation.

Conservation has been a major component of farm policy since the 1930s. Kagen was told conservation programs would be more effective and successful through common sense administration and by concentrating resources on working lands in production rather than on marginal lands.

Renewable energy will play a large role in the 2007 Farm Bill. “Agriculture understands that cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel are more likely to be successful than corn ethanol in the long term,” Kagen said.

Congressman Kagen says we can expect another forum before Congress takes up the 2007 Farm Bill. Kagen will be joined by Congressman Joe Baca, Chairman of the Operations, Oversight Nutrition and Forestry subcommittee for a field hearing in the district on childhood nutrition, reform of federal agency rules to allow Wisconsin producers to market to school breakfast and lunch programs and VA hospitals, and other issues.

Thursday’s forum was held at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay

Curtis Ellis
202 225-5665 (office)


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