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Izaak farm bill forum

By Carol Stender

cstender@agrinews.com

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Detroit Lakes was the first stop for the Izaak Walton League’s six-state series of farm bill forums.

The League is meeting with state and local farm and conservation group leaders to identify common issues the groups can tout for the farm bill.

"When talking to congressional offices, the staff say we need to speak with a common voice," said IWL agricultural programs director Brad Redlin to the 40 people at the Detroit Lakes meeting last week. "You can’t achieve that without everyone being on the same page. There are areas of common ground we have that we can work with on the farm bill."

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The Izaak Walton League brought Minnesota Farmers Union, Ducks Unlimited, Red River Sugarbeet Growers Association, the Department of Natural Resources and its own members together for the forum. Leaders of Minnesota Milk Producers and the Minnesota Farm Bureau were unable to attend the Detroit Lakes meeting, but have discussed their issues of concern with him, Redlin said.

He’s optimistic enough to believe there are commonalities among the groups, yet is realistic enough to know they won’t agree on all issues.

The IWL will meet with leaders in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri and South Dakota over the next few months, Redlin said. The forum discussions will be shared with each state’s congressional delegation.

"I am hoping that this meeting and the others will open up a lot of dialogue and hopefully the Bush administration can go in a similar direction," he said. "Hopefully all these things will get us talking."

The group supported conservation programs, but said they are understaffed and underfunded. They want more money designated for technical assistance.

Congressional leaders agree, Redlin said. They also ask how the programs can be funded. Redlin, who wrote the IWL’s farm bill proposal, has an idea. He’s included a commodity title in IWL’s proposal that would close payment loopholes by eliminating the three-entity rule and unlimited gains from the commodity loan certificates and forfeitures. The savings would fund conservation programs, he said.

Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson wants farmers adequately paid for their part in conservation programs and when opening their land for public use.

All talked about renewable energy and its possibilities for agriculture and rural areas, but several questioned using CRP acres to grow cellulosic crops for ethanol production.

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Peterson noted a plan by 7th District Congressman and House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson that would designate 5 million acres for cellulosic crop production.

Perham dairy farmer Dean Lubitz called for COOL implementation. Imports of farm goods is causing markets to drop for U.S. producers, he said. Dairy farmers, for example are getting the same price for milk in 2006 they did in 1980.

"How many people here would go back 26 years and survive on those kinds of wages?" Lubitz said. "COOL is important to everyone in this room who is in agriculture. We have the strictest standards in the world for our milk and yet we allow third-world milk that isn’t even cooled properly to cross our borders."

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