Franken visits West Concord poultry farm
WEST CONCORD — Sen. Al Franken is optimistic a new farm bill can be law by Jan. 1.
Franken discussed the farm bill during a visit to Callister Farms of West Concord on Wednesday.
The 2008 farm bill expired on Sept. 30, 2012, and was extended as part of fiscal cliff negotiations that December. The extension expired on Sept. 30, and farmers are again in limbo, wondering what Congress will include in a new farm bill or if a farm bill will even pass.
The next deadline for passing legislation comes at the end of the year, when permanent law takes effect. Permanent law would increase milk prices for consumers by raising the price dairy farmers receive for milk.
Franken favors keeping permanent law in the farm bill because it's an incentive to update the legislation every five years or so. The farm bill not only funds farm programs, but also food and nutrition programs. About two-thirds of farm bill spending goes toward nutrition programs that include the school lunch program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and USDA's Commodity Supplemental Food Program for senior citizens.
Farm bill dollars also support conservation programs, renewable energy development and rural development.
All four members of the Callister family — Alan, Lori, Gail and Molly — work at Callister Farms. They market chicken, turkey and eggs at farmers' markets and to restaurants and food cooperatives. They also do some on-farm sales. The Callister family also does on-farm chicken processing and is capable of processing 500 birds per day.
Beginning Farmer provisions in the farm bill were discussed as the Callisters sat down over cookies and coffee to talk with Franken. The senator has supported the beginning farmer legislation and in a joint letter to members of the agriculture conference committee urged support for the provision.
". . . The average age of a farmer is over 55 and significant hurdles stand in the way of beginning farmers and ranchers who wish to pursue a career in agriculture," the letter reads. "We write to respectfully request that you maintain the strongest possible support for beginning farmers and ranchers through targeted programs that provide new and young farmers with education and training, access to credit and access to affordable land."
The letter was signed by 15 senators, including Franken.
Byron farmer Curt Tvedt showed Franken tillage radishes planted to break up compaction in fields.
Tvedt, a retired dairyman, raises all forages and is a proponent of cover crops.
"The reason I got into it . . . my farm is very fragile,' Tvedt said.
Tvedt has a Conservation Stewardship Program contract, which has been a good fit for him. The program provides a payment passed on practices he uses that conserve soil and water, enhance wildlife habitat and address other natural resource concerns. The payment rewards producers for conservation practices, while encouraging them to implement additional practices.
Franken said agriculture is an important source of jobs and a national security issue. The country needs farmers, he said.
A visit to the Callister Farm is a reminder of what farming is all about, he said.