Friday, August 04, 2006

Three minutes to save the Farm Bill?

By Elaine Shein

Three minutes.

That’s all the time that will be given to people who want to influence the Senate when it holds hearings on the Farm Bill in different parts of the nation.

On August 15, Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond, Ore. will be one of the few places to host a hearing. While the list of presenters has not yet been made public, some of the people who are invited to speak have said that it was very clear that they only had three minutes to make their case on what they think should be done with the Farm Bill.
They can also offer written documents to support their viewpoints — they can write 50 pages or more, if they want — but the truth is that probably these short face-to-face exchanges that have the most impact on the influential politicians who will visit the state.

The Farm Bill is huge, costly and complicated but has a lot of areas in it that are critical to farmers across the country, particularly in some commodity and geographical areas.

While some farmers may feel they receive little benefit from the bill, there are probably parts of it affecting their businesses that they may not even be aware of unless all the programs suddenly ended.

For many, the Farm Bill was a way to offer domestic support for farmers at least until a level trading field could be guaranteed internationally. With the demise of the recent Doha World Trade Organization talks, farmers are more anxious to continue some form of stability in their markets and programs.

One of the messages that the Senate hearings will receive is that a large number of agricultural groups will want an extension of the Farm Bill for at least another year past its expiry date. This allows more details to be worked out for domestically helping farmers, but also leaves some wiggle room for perhaps international talks to be revived.

With only three minutes to make a case, that might be the only message that can get to the Senators during their summer tour.

If they seriously want to learn the best advice on how to have a better Farm Bill, they better consider longer trips next time and give more time to speakers to make their case.

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