WISCONSINREPORT.COM (12/15/07) - U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) voted in favor of the Senate Farm Bill, which included several provisions Feingold authored to help Wisconsin farmers. However, he expressed disappointment with the defeat of several common-sense reforms despite bipartisan support. Among the measures Feingold successfully had included or supported in the bill were restoration of the MILC program, protection for Wisconsin’s dairy farmers through better price reporting and USDA oversight, and a balanced milk marketing order review commission.
Feingold was also pleased that the bill included provisions similar to those in his Rural Opportunities Act aimed at creating opportunities for rural America by increasing rural broadband, promoting local foods, and investing in bio-energy. The bill also includes Feingold provisions protecting small farmers from unfair competition by preventing mandatory arbitration and helping farmers to remain eligible for Social Security.
“I am pleased that the Senate has passed a Farm Bill that includes a number of provisions I authored to help improve the lives of farmers and rural residents in Wisconsin and across the country,” Feingold said.
“While more should be done to reform farm subsidies and the direct payment system, overall, this bill helps dairy producers through measures like raising the MILC reimbursement rate and ensuring better USDA oversight," Feingold said.
"Small farmers and rural communities will also benefit from the bill through its improvements to rural broadband programs. But rest assured that I will keep fighting for further, much-needed reforms," Senator Feingold stated.
Feingold’s accomplishments for the Farm Bill include:
Fairness for Farmers
· Mandatory Arbitration – Feingold, along Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) successfully had their legislation to protect farmers from being forced into mandatory arbitration agreements included in the farm bill as part of a comprehensive package to improve the USDA’s ability to ensure fair competition.
· Farmer Tax Fairness – The Farm Bill includes language from Feingold's Farmer Tax Fairness Act of 2007 to help ensure farmers and other self-employed individuals are able to remain eligible for social security and disability benefits.
Protecting Wisconsin’s Small Dairy Farmers
· MILC – Feingold worked with his colleagues to successfully include language in the bill returning the MILC program’s reimbursement rate to 45 percent.
· Better USDA oversight – In a follow-up to his efforts to hold the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) accountable for inaccurate reporting of dairy prices, Feingold authored a requirement that dairy price reports be regularly audited and required the USDA to better coordinate their oversight of dairy markets in response to a GAO report he requested suggesting that cash cheese trading is still prone to manipulation.
· Office of Small Farms – Building on his proposal for a Small Farm Advocate in 1998, Feingold had an amendment accepted to improve the authority and activities of the Office of Small Farms following the recommendation of the GAO for improved coordination.
Creating Opportunities for Rural America
Earlier this year, Senator Feingold introduced the Rural Opportunities Act of 2007. The Farm Bill includes a number of related provisions:
Rural Broadband – Feingold supported improvements to existing broadband programs to better target efforts to increase Internet access in rural areas. There was a similar provision in Feingold’s Rural Opportunities Act.
Local Markets – Feingold supported language in the Farm Bill similar to provisions in his Rural Opportunities Act that help local farmers work to supply their communities with local food, including a provision first proposed by Feingold to allow schools to purchase locally grown products for their cafeterias.
Bioenergy – Feingold successfully included language supporting regional bioeconomy consortiums consisting of universities and state agencies to research and promote the benefits of sustainable and locally-supported bioenergy. Feingold also supported language, based on a bill he co-led, to provide local residents an opportunity to invest in bio-refineries located in their communities.
Healthcare – Feingold, with the support of Agriculture Committee Chairman Harkin (D-IA), successfully included a measure that requires the GAO to report to Congress on the number of uninsured in rural communities, the factors leading to rural Americans becoming uninsured, and the effect of no insurance on farming families.
Ensuring Small Farmers Remain Competitive
Standing up for Wisconsin’s local livestock farmers and meat processors – Feingold supported an effort by Senator Herb Kohl to help local producers who use smaller state-inspected meat processors make their products available in other states.
Livestock title – Feingold supported a provision in the Farm Bill from Senator Tom Harkin's (D-IA) Competitive and Fair Agricultural Markets Act to improve producer protections from unfair competition. This competition package included a provision similar to a bill authored by Feingold and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to prevent mandatory arbitration in agricultural contracts that passed the Judiciary Committee earlier in the year.
While Feingold is proud of these important accomplishments, he remains committed to better targeting our commodity support programs to prevent excessive payments that put small farmers at a relative disadvantage.