Update: Doing my part – reforming the Farm Bill

I finally got off my ass and contacted not only Majority Leader Reid but also Senators Durbin and Obama who are the Senators from my home state after reading this op-ed piece by Michael Pollan in the New York Times.

Maybe I should have written sooner but the bill is coming to the floor of the Senate this coming week and this is as good a time as any to get my message out that we need real reform, not just band aids of the sort that Pollan talks about.

Here is the text of my letter to Senators Reid, Durbin, and Obama (with small variations in the opening paragraph not included here):

Please support the small American farm.

As assistant majority leader of the Senate, I hope you will embrace the Farm Bill reform efforts of Senators Harkin, Grassley and Dorgan.

I do not believe I need to reiterate to you what is at stake at this point of American history. The family farm is disappearing rapidly and the costs to our country are incalculable. What we are getting in return are increasing health problems among our population, environmental problems caused by corporate monoculture and feedlots, and the complete disappearance of rural America.

I was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs and have never spent a minute living on a farm but I do support local farms by buying their food and I pay attention to these issues and know that small farms that don’t happen to grow one of the heavily subsidized crops are in real trouble because they are being driven out of business by those farms/businesses who are receiving almost unlimited subsidy payments.

I applaud the Senators who want to bring reform and more money to fund various programs that are all part of the farm bill but it would be more useful to clean up the cause of those problems rather than applying a band aid. Please do the right thing and support Senators Harkin, Grassley, and Dorgan and their efforts at reform.

Maybe not the most eloquent of letters but I think it gets my feelings across. If the farm bill goes through mostly unchanged it will be a travesty. We need real reform now not just some rubberstamping.

Update: I received the following reply from Senator Durbin’s office:

Dear Mr. Kratz:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the 2007 Farm Bill. I am pleased that many Illinois residents have taken an active interest in this important piece of legislation.

The Farm Bill helps shape commodity assistance, conservation, rural development, trade, and nutrition policy in the United States. Many of the provisions included in the current Farm Bill, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, are scheduled to expire this year. The 110th Congress is working on legislation to reauthorize the Farm Bill. I will work to see that the following priorities are reflected in the upcoming debate.

Nutrition. Hunger, sometimes termed food insecurity, has steadily increased in this country in recent years. According to the USDA, an estimated 11 percent of U.S. households were ranked as “food insecure” in 2005. In other words, over 35 million people – including over 12 million children – lived in households that experienced hunger or the risk of hunger. The upcoming Farm Bill is expected to reauthorize and appropriate funds for several important domestic nutrition assistance programs, including the Food Stamp Program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). I support the reauthorization of these government programs, which provide vital assistance to the most vulnerable Americans, and I am working to expand the funding.

Conservation. I strongly support the conservation programs included under title II of the 2002 Farm Bill. These programs help landowners and local groups restore wetlands and wildlife habitats, protect and restore grasslands, and improve soil and water quality. Because a vast majority of Illinois farmland is privately owned, it is important that we give landowners the tools to engage in these conservation activities.

Reasonable Subsidies. It is estimated that nearly 60 percent of commodity subsidies go to 10 percent of farmers in the United States. It is important that farm payments be targeted to family farmers. Farm payments should provide an adequate safety net for farmers and guard against wide fluctuations in food prices that can affect our food supply. However, agricultural assistance should not support overproduction that lowers prices to unsustainable levels.

Global Impact. There is growing concern about the negative impact of our domestic agricultural spending on countries around the world. I understand this concern. We must support American farmers, while at the same time remaining committed to our international trade agreements. We can achieve this by providing assistance to our farmers through trade compliant programs. I have consistently supported the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. This innovative program uses donations of U.S. agricultural commodities, as well as financial and technical assistance, to provide healthy, nutritious school lunches to children living in some of the most impoverished countries in the world. I recently introduced a bill that would reauthorize and expand the McGovern-Dole program.

Rural Development. Another one of my top priorities is bridging the digital divide by bringing broadband access to rural parts of the state. In order to attract businesses and qualified people, small towns and rural areas need to be able to offer broadband access. I will continue to work to bring high-quality, affordable broadband Internet service to rural communities throughout Illinois.

Renewable Energy. Renewable energy is likely to be an important part of the 2007 Farm Bill. Americans have become increasingly aware of the negative effects of our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. I support a renewable energy program that provides grants to farmers and small businesses that invest in wind and biofuels projects and efforts to increase their energy efficiency. Another important step in moving our nation toward an energy independent future is increasing the Renewable Fuel Standard that ensure the use of clean-burning ethanol in a substantial portion of our gasoline.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I will keep your views in mind as the Senate considers the 2007 Farm Bill.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Durbin

United States Senator

RJD/ec

I didn’t expect such a quick response 😉

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