Congressman Marion Berry says he has five close friends who have decided to quit farming this year.
"They’re not all broke," he told members of the Southern Crop Production Association’s board of directors. "They either couldn’t afford to continue or they decided to try to save what they have left."
Speaking during the SCPA’s annual lobbying visit to Washington, Berry said he thinks his friends in Congress need to be aware of such developments as they begin work on a new farm bill to replace Freedom to Farm.
Berry, who represents Arkansas’ First Congressional District, has introduced legislation that would require Congress to provide a second emergency Agricultural Marketing Transition Act or AMTA payment to farmers this year. The payment would be made at 1999 rates.
"This second AMTA payment is crucial for our American farmers, who are facing a situation that is reaching crisis levels," he said. "Low commodity prices, high energy costs, weather disasters and other factors have combined to make agriculture an extremely risky and fragile business."
Berry introduced the legislation, H.R. 1339, on April 3. On May 21, he sent a letter to President George W. Bush requesting his support for the supplemental payment. Many farmers already have received a smaller payment, based on 2001 rates.
"One AMTA payment already has been provided this year," he said. "But 2001 commodity prices are not expected to improve, and the current energy crisis continues to drive fuel and fertilizer costs higher. Moreover, the budget proposed by the Bush administration includes significant cuts in funding for agriculture."
While long-term changes are needed in farm policy, the short-term assistance is needed to keep the agricultural economy stable, the congressman noted. "This is a national security issue because our self-sufficiency depends on our ability to produce an adequate food supply."
Berry said he also recognizes that farmers need new tools to be able to compete with producers in other countries, tools such as new pesticides now under review by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"I don’t have a handle on the new EPA yet," he said, referring to changes that have occurred under the new administration. "I know they have good career people at EPA, who will make good decisions if given the chance. I know we lost some good people who didn’t like what was happening under the previous administration."
He said he has yet to disagree with any of the president’s decisions on environmental issues such as the reversal of the U.S. position on global warming.
"My fear is that he’s going to take some major heat from the environmentalists on these kinds of issues and he will feel he has to make a decision to placate them. In other words, he might let the pendulum swing too far the other way."
The congressman, who owns a farm near Gillette, Ark., said he applauded the Southern Crop Production Association and the Southern Seed Association for sending their board members to talk about agricultural and environmental issues with members of Congress and their staff.
"What you’re doing is important," he noted. "We are constantly trying to educate our non-farm members about the need for using sound science in making decisions on pesticides or TMDL (total maximum daily loads) regulations."
This year’s series of Capitol Hill visits centered on eight issues of concern to the SCPA and members of the Southern Seed Association board of directors, who also participated in the educational effort. The issues include:
o The Natural Resources Defense Council-EPA Consent Agreement that establishes new deadlines for tolerance re-assessment on currently labeled pesticides.
o A provision in the Bush administration budget proposal that would increase EPA’s pesticide registration fees from $17 million to $18 million a year to $76 million in FY 2002 before declining to $51 million in FY 2003.
o Legislation that would deny funding or delay implementation of the TMDL regulations issued by then-EPA Administrator Carol Browner last summer.
o The continued calls by environmental groups for the labeling and segregation of genetically engineered crops.
o The rewrite of the 1996 farm bill that is expected to begin later this summer.
o A moratorium on the implementation of the Endangered Species Act.
o Possible introduction of amendments to education bills that would require a ban on the use of EPA-approved and registered pesticides around schools and other government properties.
A total of 21 SCPA board members and seven members of the Southern Seed Association board and interested observers participated in the daylong visits to Capitol Hill this year. They met with 57 senators, members of the House of Representatives or their staffs.