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Rep. Fortenberry: Freshmen Ag members need educating

By JERRY HAGSTROM

OMAHA — Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said today he is not sure that freshmen on the House Agriculture Committee will support farm policy, and urged a group of dairy producers meeting here to engage in a strong educational effort with freshmen members.

In a detailed presentation on the budget to the National Dairy Producers Conference, Fortenberry said that while federal spending has to be cut, agriculture should not have to take more than its fair share.

“I don’t know if freshmen will support agricultural policy,” Fortenberry said in response to a question. There are fewer members of the House Agriculture Committee from the Midwest and the South, he said, and more from the Northeast.

Fortenberry said farmers want to address the budget issues and added, "We have to do our share here in getting our house in order."

It is getting harder and harder to tell agriculture's story in Congress, he said, because the percentage of the American people engaged in farming is shrinking.

"We need to ensure that agriculture policy is not affected disproportionately," he said. "The more [farmers] that can tell their story, the better."

At the conference, American Farm Bureau Federation lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher said some farmers believe cuts to the Agriculture budget can come from the nutrition programs, since 76 percent of the budget is now in those programs.

Thatcher noted, however, that while there may be about 1 million farmers in the country, there are 44 million people getting food stamps, and the number of people in the special nutrition program for women, infants and children and the number of children getting free or reduced school lunches and breakfasts has grown.

“If you think we can go as 1 million people against 44 million people, think again," Thatcher said.

A series of speakers also told the conference, which was sponsored by the National Milk Producers Federation, that the 2008 farm bill could not be extended as is because too many programs will lose funding when the authorization for the current bill ends.