September 17, 2008

Official Discusses Farm Bill in Elgin

By Leslie Hague

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The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture said Tuesday he didn't have much hope for getting new farming legislation passed this week.

"We simply have an inability for the House and Senate to agree on what a farm bill would encompass," Ed Schafer told a group of Illinois farmers at an Elgin farm.

The far-reaching $10 billion legislation includes issues such as trade policies and price supports for crops. The last piece of legislation was passed in 2002 and expired last September. It has been extended several times since.

The farming industry has changed in the six years since then, necessitating a new plan, said Robert Gehrke, president of the Kane County Farm Bureau who hosted the event at his farm.

While missing a Friday deadline wouldn't immediately impact local farmers, "I'd sure like for it to get done before the day we need it," Gehrke said.

Schafer, the former governor of North Dakota, has been with the U.S. Department of Agriculture since January.

An admitted "short-timer," he told farmers he wants to focus on passing a farm bill, promoting ethanol and developing technological infrastructure in his time in Washington.

Local farmers had a few minutes to ask Schafer questions.

Brett Scholl of the Illinois Pork Producers Association said it was important for the country's farmers to have free trade agreements with other countries like Korea in order to export their products.

As for the farm bill, the deadline for a new one is Friday, a deadline Schafer said he doesn't think will be met. In that case, he said a one- or two-year extension of the current legislation would be the best option.

There is currently not an agreement in Washington on funding, spending or reforms in the plan, Schafer noted.

"That's where we started three years ago," he said. "That's disappointing to me, but that's where we are."

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