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The '07 farm bill will benefit North Dakota family farmers

Our hard work has paid off and the finish line is in sight. After months of difficult negotiations, the U.S. Senate last week overwhelmingly passed a new farm bill.

Our hard work has paid off and the finish line is in sight. After months of difficult negotiations, the U.S. Senate last week overwhelmingly passed a new farm bill.

As both chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, I was at the center of negotiations on the farm bill. I am proud to have been able to help craft this crucial legislation. We have put together a strong bill, one that will benefit family farmers and ranchers in North Dakota and across the nation.

Only days before the bill passed the Senate, I was home in North Dakota for the last in a series of meetings I've held across the state to gather input on the new farm bill. Dozens of farmers, ranchers and local business owners turned out at the Mayville senior center on a cold Saturday afternoon to discuss the farm bill. The strong attendance was a testament to the importance of the farm bill, not just to farmers and ranchers but Main Street businesses as well.

The fact is, farming is a

$4-billion-a-year industry in our state. One of every five North Dakotans earns their living from farming or ranching. Family farming is a way of life here, and I am proud to say that this new farm bill will help it remain so.

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At its core the farm bill makes major investments in food and energy security for our nation. The legislation builds on the success of the 2002 farm bill and significantly improves commodity, nutrition, conservation and rural development programs. It also invests in new priorities, such as making America less dependent on foreign oil. Energy production is the single greatest opportunity for agriculture and our rural communities, and I helped secure a strong energy title in the farm bill.

Specifically, the five-year farm bill includes key provisions for farmers and ranchers, including an enhanced farm safety net and provisions to encourage the production of domestic and renewable sources of energy. The bill also includes my "Open Fields" legislation to preserve hunting and other outdoor recreation, as well as a country- of-origin labeling provision.

I am especially proud that this legislation also includes my proposal for a new disaster aid program, which will go a long way toward assisting producers who fall victim to the blows of Mother Nature.

The new farm bill also addresses concerns about farm program payment limits. The bill contains the beginning of very important reform. It eliminates the three-entity rule, requires direct attribution of payments, and reduces the adjusted gross income cap for nonfarmers from $2.5 million to $750,000.

Despite our victory in the Senate last week, the fight for the farm bill is far from over. The Bush administration continues to threaten to veto the bill, saying it is too costly. However, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office revealed that the White House's version of the farm bill actually costs $1 billion more than the Senate's proposal. The truth is, this is a fiscally responsible bill that does not add one cent to the nation's deficit.

We're also fighting against an East Coast media that simply doesn't understand farming and is encouraging opposition to the farm bill. They overlook the fact that this is more than a farm bill. It is a "food bill." Sixty-six percent of the money in this bill is for nutrition programs to help feed those less fortunate, as well as our nation's children.

We must not forget the vital role farmers play in our society. As Teddy Roosevelt said, "There is no body of our people whose interests are more inextricably interwoven with the interests of all the people than is the case with the farmers ... our people as a whole, through their governmental agencies, should back the farmers."

I know how important this legislation is and will continue to fight for our family farmers. I have been chosen to be on the conference committee negotiating the differences between the Senate and House of Representatives versions of the farm bill. I am confident we will soon pass a farm bill that is good for North Dakota and our nation.

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Conrad, D-N.D., is a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

The '07 farm bill will benefit North Dakota family farmers By Sen. Kent Conrad 20071219

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