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Chambliss Chairs Hearing on U.S. Ag Future
The National Symposium on the Future of Agriculture Aug. 10-11 in Athens, Ga., concluded with a U.S. House of Representatives field hearing. Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), a member of the House agriculture committee, presided over the hearing.

"We're coming off of three bad years in agriculture," said Chambliss, whose district is one of the most agriculturally productive in the country, growing peanuts, cotton, tobacco and many other crops.

Payouts and Promises

Last year, almost 47 percent of the U.S. net farm income came from federal government payouts. That percentage is expected to be equaled again this year.

"We know that's not the way we need to operate," Chambliss said. "We need to work with commodity groups to get prices up and keep them at decent levels. People blame the '96 farm bill, but it's getting undue criticism. Other problems have contributed more significantly to this situation."

When Congress passed the 1996 farm bill, Chambliss said they also promised farmers they would do four things:

  1. Offer regulatory relief to allow suppliers to get through the maze of regulations faster. It was passed in the House and Senate, but the President vetoed it.
  2. Offer tax relief. A bill was passed twice in the House and Senate, but it was vetoed. The estate tax repeal is going to the president in September. They are hopeful the President will sign it.
  3. Use crop insurance reform as a real risk management tool. They worked on it five years, passed it and the President signed it. "Next year you'll have more flexibility in crop insurance than you've ever had before," Chambliss said.
  4. Turn the American farmer loose on the world market and compete. But agricultural trade agreements on the books don't benefit agriculture.
"We're competing against countries that heavily subsidize their farmers more than we do," he said. "For several administrations, we've done a poor job of negotiating agricultural agreements."

China Agreement Offers New Promises

The new agreement with China offers new promise.

"This is a world power we have to deal with," he said. "They have 2 billion people. They have to eat, and we have the best-quality agricultural products in the world."

The national symposium was coordinated by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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