Peanut funding bill thrown out

By Casey Peacock: PNT Staff Writer

The future of peanut storage funding is still up in the air after it was thrown out of an emergency supplemental bill attached to the Iraq funding measure being considered on Capitol Hill.

New Mexico Peanut Growers representatives were in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to meet with congressional members and continue to press their case for a program they say is critical to area peanut farmers.

They were also able to discuss the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill and what it means to the peanut industry in New Mexico with legislators.

“Everybody had so much hope it would be passed,” said local peanut farmer and National Peanut Board member Richard Robbins of the emergency supplemental bill. “It’s hard to know what’s really going to happen.”

According to a press release from Sen. Pete Domenici’s office, the House version of the FY2007 emergency supplemental bill included $74 million to be used in additional peanut storage funding. The funding was not supported by the Senate Agriculture Committee and was touted as “extraneous,” the press release said.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., joined a bipartisan group that was in support of attaching the funding to the Iraq spending bill. His office expressed disappointment at the outcome.

“We’ll continue to work with other senators from other peanut producing states and we will be looking for other opportunities to get this provision passed,” said Maria Najera, spokesperson from Bingaman’s office.

“I am well aware that the inclusion of some additional peanut storage funding in this bill is critical. I hope this will be an issue we can revisit once Congress gets this bill back after President Bush vetoes it,” said Domenici, R-N.M. “There are a lot of things I do not like in this supplemental bill, and this is just one of them.”

Robbins said the funding has been around for the past few years and is not something that is trying to be tacked onto to a bill at the last minute in an attempt to gain more money.

“This is not something new. We’re just trying to continue with something we already had going,” Robbins said.

Storage was included in the 2002 Farm Bill, which expired with last year’s crop, according to a Bingaman press release. It went on to say that loss of the program would cost growers an additional $50 to $60 per ton.

“Peanuts are a semi-perishable crop, and in order to protect farmers and allow orderly marketing, storage and handling, payments are critical for peanut producers,” Bingaman said. “It would be devastating to peanut farmers if Congress failed to extend this program.”