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Optimism the word for 2007

By Kent Peppler

Family farmers and ranchers have much for which they can be optimistic as they look forward to the new year. Representing 26,000 members in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union believes the new congressional leadership will make strengthening family farms, ranches and rural communities a top priority.

Congress and the administration will get the nation’s skyrocketing deficit under control. High federal deficits hurt everyone, as we must have tax dollars go to pay interest, rather than toward important economic development. As we have already seen, budget deficits drive up interest rates. The ability of farmers and ranchers to be profitable has been greatly limited by increased interest rates.

Another priority for the new Congress will be implementation of disaster assistance for agricultural producers. Hurricanes in the south are just a part of the many natural disasters that have adversely affected farms and ranches. In the west, many areas have suffered year after year from drought. Such natural disasters hurt producers, but they also can have a devastating financial impact on the entire rural community, which depends on farmers and ranchers to patronize their businesses. We also believe the new Congress will fully fund the conservation programs established in the 2002 farm bill and other pieces of legislation. Producers and consumers alike agree that these programs are important for the environment and, in some cases, for national security, but many conservation programs remain unfunded.

As the writing of the next farm bill approaches, which we are told will be completed in 2007, I am hopeful we will get programs that encourage development of local food systems and niche markets to meet consumers’ changing demands. We need to use federal farm policy to accelerate the growth of the renewable energy sector and ensure that economic benefits from this growing industry stay in the communities and with the farmers that make it possible to produce this new type of energy. We are hopeful the congressional agriculture committees will structure programs that encourage family farmers and ranchers without providing huge windfalls for very large corporate farms and other types of operations. Farm programs were originally aimed at providing a safety net for family operations, and most consumers, farmers and other rural Americans support this.

We also look forward to full implementation of mandatory country-of-origin food labeling, a measure that was passed more than four years ago, as part of the 2002 farm bill. Also important to the consuming public is strong support for the food and nutrition programs contained in the farm bill. School lunch and other nutrition programs are important to the health and well-being of our country’s next generation.

Congress also needs to address the nation’s income tax structure. We believe that those who have benefited the most from the nation’s wealth building opportunities should be asked to reinvest, through their tax dollars, in the areas that will keep this nation strong and moving forward. Among Rocky Mountain Farmers Union priorities are upgrading roads and other infrastructure, investment in education, and better healthcare systems for all Americans, especially those in rural areas who may lack care due to equipment and expertise available in rural hospitals and clinics.

I am optimistic that the new Congress will place these and other rural issues high on their to-do list.