Senator Frist spoke to local farmers and answered their questions during a NCC-sponsored meeting on August 22 at the Willie German Equipment Company in Brownsville. The meeting was among a series of stops in West Tennessee communities by Senator Frist, who in addition to his duties as Majority Leader, serves on the Finance, Health, Education, Labor & Pensions; and Rules & Administration committees.
NCC President/CEO Mark Lange expressed appreciation for Senator Frist’s recognition of cotton and agriculture’s significance to Tennessee’s economy. The annual farm-gate value of Tennessee’s cotton production alone is about $220 million. When Tennessee cotton’s processing, distribution and utilization chain is included, the crop supports almost 15,000 good-paying jobs and generates more than $3 billion in annual business revenue.
Lange said the Senator could continue his long-standing support for Tennessee’s farmers by conveying to his Congressional colleagues the importance of: 1) maintaining the current farm law through its scheduled 2007 expiration and 2) preserving a position of strength as the U.S. participates in WTO Doha Round trade negotiations.
“It is vital for the U.S. to maintain a stable and predictable agriculture policy that addresses commodity, nutrition, conservation, risk management and research programs in a balanced manner like the current law,” Lange said. “Mid-term changes to the current farm law, especially further limiting access to the financial safety net when prices are low, are not in the best interest of the rural economy -- an engine for our national economy.
“If current limits on-farm program benefits and eligibility requirements are dramatically changed in the middle of the farm law, commercially viable family farms, particularly those that produce cotton, rice and peanuts, will be particularly hard hit. This constant threat of mid-term changes not only affects farmers’ ability to respond to market signals and make well-founded cropping, marketing and investment decisions, but it also impacts lenders, suppliers and agribusinesses. In short, it is bad for business and the rural economy.”
Lange explained that the current law not only has strict limits and eligibility requirements, the 2002 farm law also added a means test to ensure individuals with high, non-farm income don’t qualify for benefits. Lange also noted that changes in current limits in program benefits could make it even more difficult for beginning farmers and small operators with limited resources to obtain production financing.