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Survey finds farmersare in agreement onkey farm bill issues

Iowa farmers appear to agree on what they want to be included in the next farm bill, according to survey coordinated by the Community Vitality Center at Iowa State University.

A total of 736 Iowa farmers took part in the survey, which was part of a national effort coordinated by the National Agricultural Food and Public Policy Preference Survey Project. Farmers from 27 states participated in the survey.

It should be pointed out that the survey found a split of opinion based on farm size. Owners of larger and medium-sized farms say more emphasis should be placed on commodity loans, loan deficiency payments, counter-cyclical payments and insurance programs. Smaller operators placed higher importance on disaster assistance, land retirement and working lands programs.

Regardless of size, Iowa farmers are more supportive of payment limitations than farmers nationally.

Iowa respondents ranked improving opportunities for small and beginning farmers and renewable energy as their top goals for the next farm bill. These were followed by increased competitiveness, natural resource protection and enhancing rural economies.

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That’s a full plate of priorities for the 2007 farm bill. The question is are lawmakers up to the task or will they have their hands tied by lobbyists and bound by tradition.

The time is now for a change designed to provide a soft landing as agriculture moves away from traditional subsidy programs to a more market-oriented approach. Although there is much talk about simply extending the 2002 farm bill, that is more pipe dream than possible. Budget constraints, world trade deals and the ineffectiveness of existing policy makes continuation unlikely — unless, of course, Congress throws up its hands and takes the easy way out.

Iowa’s state government has recognized the importance of encouraging new farmers. The approach taken to building the state’s dairy industry is a fine example of what can be done to boost rural economies. Renewable energy initiatives have also ignited economic growth opportunities. The state’s mission to turn Iowa into the renewable energy capitol of the world is recognized nationally as a model worthy of copying.

Iowa agriculture’s diversity is its strength.

There is plenty of room for large operations and small, conventional and organic. Regardless of size, farm operators share the dream of enjoying the fruits of their labor in the Iowa countryside. Hard work, ingenuity and vision must be rewarded. The federal government can remove tax and other roadblocks to their success. It can also lend a helping hand when natural disasters strike and market forces beyond individual control threaten economic viability.

While government should build on successful farm policy of the past, it must be willing to risk taking new approaches.

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