Ag producers hope to not repeat farm bill quick fix

Members of the agricultural community are hoping they won't see a repeat of what happened late last year as Congress continues to work on a new farm bill.

The bill, which many farmers were in support of because it included disaster assistance programs, never made it to the floor of Congress. Instead, the existing farm bill was extended as part of a last-minute fiscal cliff deal, bringing legislators and farmers back to square one in proposing a new bill.

"In previous farm bills, there has not been any drought disaster relief programs," said New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau Executive Vice President Matt Rush. "We felt that was a critical piece, having some disaster relief for livestock farmers."

Last week, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the Senate is making progress in rewriting the bill during his weekly radio show, Tuesdays With Tom. He also discussed the importance of the bill.

"The Senate Farm Bill renews critical agricultural disaster assistance programs, which are more important than ever with New Mexico's ongoing, devastating drought," Udall said. "And although our entire state is eligible for disaster assistance, livestock programs must be renewed in order for these farmers and ranchers to receive the help they desperately need."

Udall said the legislation also continues growing New Mexico's economy by increasing export opportunities to sell goods abroad.

"It helps family farmers sell locally through farmers markets and by connecting them to schools and organizations in their community," Udall said. "And it links crop insurance payments to practices that protect our natural resources and conserve our working lands."

Udall has amendments he plans to introduce to the farm bill including provisions that would ensure that New Mexico's frontier communities and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, especially veteran farmers , get more access and resources from U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.

"Additionally, I am working on an amendment to continue my efforts to find shared solutions to our water challenges," Udall said. "My amendment would ensure that irrigation conservation programs in USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program truly result in water savings. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to farmers that implement practices to conserve our natural resources."

Rush said he's been working with the senators and representatives of New Mexico to get the farm bill reintroduced and his content with the progress they have made since last year.

His only concern is that the Senate version of the bill will exclude funding for research.

"The one thing we're paying attention to is that there's not any funding for research institutions like (New Mexico State University)," Rush said. "The challenges that the ag community face are great enough that we are going to need all the help that we can get to continue operating."

He said funding for research is in the House version of the bill and hopes that a compromise will be made between the two houses.

Rush said the farm bill is to be introduced soon.

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