Legislation needs to see changes to help farmers, Thompson says|[03/27/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Initial layouts to the Department of Agriculture for this year’s farm bill need to be changed to protect small farmers in Mississippi, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson told farmers gathered for a conference Monday.

Provisions in the Bush administration’s proposals for handling farm programs in 2007 contain changes that would also stymie and discourage younger generations from carrying on the tradition, the Democrat said.

&#8220It will knock small, limited-resource people out the box,” Thompson said to an audience of about 50 at the Vicksburg Convention Center for the 2007 Small Farmers Conference.

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Specifically, Thompson, re-elected last year to a seventh term in Congress and named chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said he questions the type of payments made to farmers and how much they can get.

The proposal will reduce the adjusted gross income a farmer can have annually and still qualify for payments from $2.5 million to $200,000.

&#8220I have accepted the role of being the small farmers’ advocate in the state of Mississippi,” Thompson said.

Also, cotton farmers would lose certain provisions within programs in place to keep them competitive in international markets, a move farm industry analysts believe is inspired by World Trade Organization rulings.

&#8220We need to preserve land ownership in the farm bill,” Thompson said.

The Senate and House agriculture committees began work this month on details of the 2007 farm bill, the actual funding of which will be dictated by how much spending authority those committees is given by the budget committees of both chambers.

Mississippi’s only member on any of the four committees is Sen. Thad Cochran, a member of the Republican minority on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The Congressional Budget Office has yet to predict funding levels in the next five years, but the USDA has figured expenditures on farm programs in the next five years to reach $61 billion if programs are continued without change.

Hosted by the Alcorn State University Extension Program and the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives and Center for Cooperative Development, the three-day conference continues through Wednesday, including updates on wildlife conservation and business-oriented sessions such as managing assets and development.

Attendees will also visit sites in Claiborne County to observe new techniques in goat and cattle farming, as well as a session for small vegetable producers at the demonstration farm at Alcorn State’s campus in Lorman.