Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
U. S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said in Havre Saturday that there was success in the 2007 Farm Bill passed by Congress earlier this year, but there are challenges ahead no matter which presidential candidate is elected in November. Baucus, who is running for re-election against Republican Bob Kelleher, said it has been difficult working with the Bush administration on the farm bill, and he thinks that the next administration may be easier to work with. “My gut instinct is it won’t be as bad,” he said. “I’m hopeful. “Agriculture is so important in the United States, whoever is the next president probably won’t rock the boat,” Baucus added. Baucus met with local agricultural leaders in Havre for an ag listening session before hosting his Burger Bonanza in Pepin Park, then heading out to talk to Tribal leaders at Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation on issues including funding the Rocky Boy’s- North Central Montana Regional Water System and the Indian Health Service. Items in the Farm Bill Baucus, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said he held listening sessions around the state for two years before the Farm Bill was authorized to hear concerns Montana farmers and ranchers of. Several key issues came up at every session, he said setting permanent disaster assistance, implementing country of origin labeling, allowing smaller meat packing plants to to sell across state lines, improving the conservation stewardship program and keeping Farm Service Agency offices open in the state. “We got all of it,” Baucus said at the Havre meeting. “We got all of the above.” The country operated under several extensions of the 2002 Farm Bill when the new legislation was not passed before the September 2007 deadline, then was passed in May when Congress overrode a veto by President George Bush. Baucus said the joint committee of which he was a member resolved differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill by working together to craft a final version. “This was a conference where everybody worked together well,” he said. Bush opposed the farm bill, saying it increased subsidies in a time of record agricultural income, failed to limit payment amounts and included a permanent disaster fund written by Baucus he also opposed. Baucus said Saturday that the conference committee tried to work with the White House, but the Bush administration essentially said it had to be done its way particularly with funding or not at All. “They were very specific about how to pay for it,” he said. In the end, Baucus who chairs the Senate Finance Committee said it was up to him to find ways to pay for the provisions of the bill. “It really was difficult,” he added. North American Free Trade Agreement During the listening session, Baucus fielded questions about issues ranging from renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement to better favor agriculture to what is happening with rangeland crop insurance. Havre City Council Member Bob Kaul asked if something could be done to improve NAFTA to help ag producers, “to make it fair trade instead of free trade.” Baucus said he thinks it would be better to work within the agreement. If the negotiations are reopened, U.S. businesses could lose more than they gain. “Nobody’s going to give up something for nothing,” he said. “It could be opening up a can of worms. “It sounds good, but when you dig down, I’d be careful about it.” Rangeland insurance in the works Gary Meland, who farms and ranches north of Havre, asked about what will happen with rangeland crop insurance. He said he had enrolled in a pilot program for the insurance a few years ago, and received a letter in the last week telling him it was being canceled. “This rangeland insurance is pretty important,” he said, adding that the coverage through the noninsured crop disaster assistance program available is not very good. Baucus and his staff said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking at implementing a different program used in some states. “Basically, it’s a mess. We’re trying to get the USDA to figure it out ,” Baucus said. “The whole thing is this is new and it’s needed. We’ve got to work together to figure it out.” Border and Customs Responding to a question by Bob Sivertsen, Baucus said he has had concerns from the start about the impact moving Customs into the Department of Homeland Security would have on trade. Sivertsen said the focus on security at the border, while necessary, is causing problems in trade. “I know we need security but it’s costing everybody,” Sivertsen said. Baucus said keeping the commerce flowing is crucial, but the focus on the security side and a lack of resources makes it a difficult situation. He said he has held many hearings on the issue. “It’s a challenge. The commercial side is very important, and not just for agriculture,” he said. Challenges ahead Baucus said there are many challenges ahead, including dealing with increasing costs to run a farm or ranch, and he is waiting to see how the next presidential administration handles agricultural policy. Both presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., are relatively unknown as far what their ag policies will be, he said. Big Sandy farmer Bob Boettcher asked Baucus if something could be done to better monitor land in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays a fee to farmers to maintain the native vegetation planted to prevent erosion and provide wildlife habitat. While many farmers do maintain the land, others let it slide and weeds take over, Boettcher said. Baucus said how much local Farm Service Agency offices can do to monitor CRP will depend on funding for the agency. How the next president budgets for that could have an impact, he said. “I don’t know if the FSA will look different under a new president,” Baucus said. “I just don’t know.” He said he plans to start working on programs that will impact agriculture as soon as Congress reconvenes in September, with a new energy policy a key. Farmers and ranchers have faced increases in fuel, fertilizer and chemical costs in the last two years, offsetting record prices on many ag commodities. “It’s up to us in Congress to pass a strong energy bill,” Baucus said. He added that tax incentives to increase development of alternative and renewable energy and developing new sources of traditional fuels like the Bakken Formation in eastern Montana and the western Dakotas could help everyone with rising costs, including ag producers. “I think that’s part of the solution to deal with the input costs going up,” Baucus said.