Coleman discusses Farm Bill passage, importance
For the fifth time since the 2002 Farm Bill expired in September, the deadline for federal legislators to reach an agreement on the 2007 Farm Bill has been extended until this Friday, May 2.
But despite President George Bush's expressed opposition to further extensions, Senator Norm Coleman said Thursday that he feels passage of the new legislation is important.
"President Bush is opposed to another extension, but I disagree with that," Coleman said in a telephone interview from his office in Washington, D.C. "We need this Farm Bill."
The current bill includes provisions for conservation, renewable energy, additional funding for grain storage, and other programs that will significantly aid rural Minnesota farmers, Coleman believes.
"It would be a shame if we couldn't narrow our differences and get this thing done by next week," Coleman said.
One of the key pieces of legislation included in the 2007 bill, Coleman said, is a provision for permanent disaster assistance -- i.e., a "safety net" for farmers.
"As any farmer will tell you, the sun doesn't shine all the time," Coleman said, referring to the current market situation, with higher-than-normal commodity prices. "We're also seeing a tremendous increase in costs for inputs (fertilizer, seed, etc.)... you want to have your safety nets in there so if things change, folks aren't driven off their farms."
Those safety nets include not only permanent disaster relief, but also programs like milk income loss compensation, loan rate provisions, etc.
One new provision would include a tax credit for the development of ethanol derived from cellulose, a material found in grasses, woody plants and crop debris.
Coleman is also determined that the new bill will include a provision for farmers to obtain funding to increase their grain storage capacity.
"I've heard of farmers having to store their grain on the ground," Coleman said. "We can't afford to waste any grain, (with current) biofuel and livestock needs.
"Hopefully," he added, "we'll have a new Farm Bill in hand by next Friday."
In addition to discussing the Farm Bill, Coleman also briefly addressed recent accusations from the Democratic Party that he has put the interests of "big oil" ahead of those of his own state.
"We passed an energy bill in 2005, and in that energy bill there were tax incentives to oil companies," Coleman admitted. "But that bill also set in place a renewable fuels standard, for the first time. That really unleashed the great potential of ethanol."
The 2005 Energy Bill also included "a whole range of provisions" for biofuels, wind energy and other renewable energy sources.
"Later on, we also voted to shift some of the tax incentives for oil companies to renewables," Coleman added.
"If we had rejected that Energy Bill, it would have had a devastating effect on farmers -- it was a good bill for Minnesota's farmers. The nature of legislation is that no bill is 100 percent (favorable) -- you have to make a judgment on whether the good outweighs the bad."