Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Congress' vision impaired by corn-fed intoxication

Update, 1:29 p.m., Nov. 6, 2007: A story has just been posted on CapitalPress.com reporting that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has dropped the idea of adding AgJOBS as an amendment to the 2007 Farm Bill.
The 2007 Farm Bill is expected to be debated this week on the floor of the U.S. Senate. A lot of commodity groups have high hopes that their interests will be reflected in the bill that comes out of the Senate, and their fingers crossed that their agenda will be carried through the conference committee to resolve difference between the House and Senate version of the bill.

From a West Coast perspective, I am not overly optimistic that this region's interest will be adequately reflected in the final bill. Let's face it, the farm bill and agriculture policy are dominated by the Midwest, where corn, soybean and wheat predominate. That' doesn't bode well for growers who crow other stuff to get heard over the clamor of Midwest grain interests.

All agriculture is not the same. I learned that lesson dramatically when I accepted a job some years back to be editor of a newspaper in a farming community in California's San Joaquin Valley. One of the attractions of the job in Porterville, Calif., was that is was in an agrarian community. On the surface, it reminded me of the places I grew up, the farming communities of the Nebraska panhandle and Eastern Oregon. But it didn't take me long re realize the farming done there -- like dairy, citrus, olives, tablegrapes, walnuts and almonds -- was quite different than the row crops and cattle ranches I was familiar with from my youth.

The big jolt came one December, when temperatures in the generally mild region dipped below freezing and it essentially wiped out the navel orange crop, for which harvest had just begun.


In December.

Where I came from, farmers were spending December in a virtual agricultural hibernation (unless they had cattle to feed). December was a time for conferences, vacations, working on equipment in a heated shop perhaps, but not harvest.

I found out I had a lot to learn about my new hometown during that climatically and economically chilly winter, and I had a lot to learn about California agriculture too. That was almost a decade ago now, and I'm still learning a lot abut California agriculture and agriculture elsewhere in the West.

In this year, before a presidential election, with a Midwest dominated ag policy machine, I doubt we will see a lot of inspired innovation to come out of the 2007 Farm Bill debate. If if were a political betting man, I would wager that, AgJOBS, which is seen as vital to many agriculture regions and which gets to the heart of the immigration debate the nation has been begging Congress to address, won't be a part of the 2007 Farm Bill. Congress doesn't seem to have the strength or the stomach to act on it now. Immigration and border security concerns are the type of stuff that makes for good stump speeches for politicians, but isn't the sort of stuff politicians want to risk their political life on so close to an election because no matter what action is taken on that issue, it will tick someone off. And besides, AgJOBS just isn't as important to the corn and soybeans crowd.

Corn is king, even more so now in the age of ethanol intoxication. Expect Congress to overindulge on corn squeezin' and huggin' as it has for decades and leave most of West Coast ag, including the No. 1 agriculture state -- California -- to continue to fend for itself.

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