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Farm Bill Floor Statement

December 20, 2007

Statement by Senator Michael B. Enzi

on passage of the 2007 Farm Bill

December 14, 2007

MR ENZI: Mr. President, I rise today to speak in favor of the Farm Bill which looks close to a vote. Many of my colleagues have already expressed how important this legislation is to our country and rural communities. I could not agree more with their statements and was pleased to see the Senate finally begin legislating by considering amendments. I would also like to thank again Chairman Harkin, Ranking Member Chambliss, and the members of the Agriculture Committee for their hard work on this bill.

Wyomings agricultural community has always provided me with great advice on how to approach our nations farm policy. Consistently, I hear that livestock producers and growers want to move in a direction that provides greater access to competitive markets and limits government barriers to conducting business. You see, the producers I have spoken with believe that their checks should come from an auctioneer or buyer, not the government. This is certainly a challenging goal recognizing the competing global pressures on our nationsfarmers and ranchers. However, I can say that the Senate has been able to inject some common sense reforms in this bill.

The livestock title is a great example of how you can go a long way on a small budget. Reforms include a ban on packer ownership, improved language on mandatory price reporting, better enforcement mechanisms for the Packers and Stockyards Act and efforts to improve how anti-trust claims are arbitrated. Language in this title will implement Country of Origin Labeling by September 30, 2008; something I have been working on with my colleagues since I came to the Senate in 1997. Also, the livestock title contains a ban on packer ownership and creates a special counsel in USDA for coordinating investigations of anti-competitive behaviors; two measures that will significantly improve the enforcement of the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act.

Although I am pleased to see that this Farm Bill contains a livestock title, I will say that I am disappointed that the Senate wasnt able to include a number of additional measures that would have promoted competition in the livestock market. Earlier this week, we considered the business justification amendment that would have leveled the playing field for producers seeking recourse from anti-competitive marketing practices. This amendment failed to reach the threshold for passage but I expect to continue working with my colleagues to adopt this measure in the future.

I did not have the opportunity to offer my amendment on captive supply reform, but I look forward to continuing my work on this proposal. Senate Agriculture Committee hearings and numerous reports have continued to indicate there is a need to improve the enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act. The livestock industry has changed significantly since the early days of the 20th century. The Senate cannot fail to overlook these changes and how they adversely affect our nations independent livestock producers.

As a former small business owner, I appreciate another measure in this bill that promotes the ability for independent livestock producers to market their products beyond the borders of their respective state. The ban on state-inspected meat is a major barrier to small ranchers seeking to promote their products, most of which are valued-added and premium products, to buyers in neighboring states. State meat packing facilities have inspection regimes just as stringent as federally supervised plants and in the case of Wyoming better standards than those at the federal level. The United States already allows meat products into our country from other nations to move freely across state lines on the promise that their products comply with our federal standards. Why not allow meat products guaranteed to federal specifications to also cross state lines? I trust that as the legislation advances I will be able to work with my colleagues to keep this provision in the bill.

One provision in this bill that has gotten the attention of many rural landowners is a fix to an attack on farmers and ranchers. The Department of Homeland Security recently promulgated rules that classify propane as a "chemical of interest" and would require individuals to register certain amounts of the liquefied gas at a great cost to the rural landowner. I appreciate the efforts of the Department to protect our nation from security threats, but these rules come at the expense of ranchers and farmers who store large amounts of propane for their operations. I am pleased to see language in this bill that exempts rural landowners from this rule while also serving the interests of our national security.

Wyomings vast open spaces benefit greatly from the working lands programs in this legislation. Producers in Wyoming continually seek better tools that allow them to improve the productivity of their operation while ensuring that future generations can enjoy the landscape we enjoy today. Although I would have preferred to see more enrollable acres and funding for programs such as EQIP and the Grassland Reserve Program, I am confident that the package before the Senate will continue the success of these popular programs.

Recognizing these improvements, I can say that I hoped to have additional reforms included that would allow our farmers and ranchers to transition from existing farm support programs. The Grassley-Dorgan amendment would have made significant advances in ensuring that crop assistance goes to the family farms most in need of support. Additionally, the Senate had the opportunity to save money in this Farm Bill through the substitute amendment to the commodity title offered by my colleague Senator Lugar. I ask that my colleagues consider reducing the spending levels of this bill as the Farm Bill advances to Conference.

Mr. President, Wyomings independent ranchers and farmers work hard to produce agricultural products for our country and they deserve a Farm Bill that promotes competitive markets and seeks to reform farm support programs. The Senate has been able to put together a reasonable Farm Bill with realistic improvements in both of these areas. Saying that, I encourage my colleagues to vote for the Farm Bill and continue thinking about the future of agriculture and our rural communities.