CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Allowing the 2002 farm bill to work as it was intended is all about living up to “commitments,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman told members attending the organization’s 86th annual meeting in Charlotte.

“We’re talking about commitments,” Stallman told Farm Bureau members. “You are carrying out your commitment by providing safe, abundant and affordable food for this country. In return, Congress committed to providing you a workable and effective farm program for six years.

“We are meeting our commitment,” said Stallman. “Our government must meet theirs.”

Speaking on the opening day of the AFBF meeting, Stallman told members it is “never bad to hold a good, reasoned debate about U.S. farm policy.” But, he added, that process should take place at the appropriate time.

“We will be glad to talk about policies for the 2007 farm bill and even start that discussion in 2005,” Stallman said. “But, we have to let the current farm bill run its course.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said last week that he will renew his efforts to reduce the limits on farm program payments in an attempt to save $1.3 billion in federal spending. His comments came during the confirmation hearings for Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, President Bush’s nominee to be secretary of agriculture in his second term.

Stallman, serving his fifth year as president of the nation’s largest farm group, said farm planning is not done just one year at a time and that it would be wrong to shift policy halfway through the current farm bill.

“We should not be changing rules in the middle of the game,” Stallman said. “Today’s farm program is working. Its cost is comparatively small – less than seven-tenths of 1 percent of our federal budget—and our government’s return on that investment in rural America is hard for any farm bill critic to refute.”

While net farm income looked good in 2004, according to Stallman, that “does not mean 2005 is the time to chop holes in our counter-cyclical safety net.”

According to Stallman, gutting the U.S. farm program would “tie the hands of our trade negotiators during world trade talks.”

“At the very time they are trying to negotiate a bigger and fairer share of the world market for our farm exports, why should we be willing to throw our bargaining power straight out the window?” Stallman asked.

Stallman said America’s farmers and ranchers should be able to sell their products around the world, without having to compete against the unfair subsidies and barriers of foreign governments. While a successful conclusion to World Trade Organization talks is key to increasing market access and profitability for U.S. producers, “the devil is always in the details.” Stallman said AFBF will be watching those details very closely.

Another top priority for AFBF in 2005 is passage of a comprehensive energy bill. Stallman said that higher energy expenses during the past two growing seasons cost farmers and ranchers an added $6 billion in production expenses.

“Skyrocketing energy costs are clearly a problem, but your farms are offering a clear solution,” Stallman said. “This past year, we secured new tax incentives for renewable fuels such as farm-grown ethanol and biodiesel.”

According to Stallman, AFBF will continue to push this year for comprehensive energy “legislation that sets realistic standards for the use of home-grown fuels and substantially increases our supply of domestic energy.

“This country is way too dependent on foreign sources of energy from unstable and politically unreliable countries,” he said. “We must have a comprehensive, national energy policy, and we believe America is strongest when it is fueled by Americans.”

Stallman said AFBF will also continue its effort to “drive the final nail into the coffin of the death tax.”

“The death tax cripples family businesses such as farms and ranches,” he said. “Effects of the death tax on farm and ranch families are not often black and white. But they can be measured in dark, dismal shades of gray.

“As it sits today, farmers pay a disproportionate amount of death taxes. Hard-earned farm capital that should be reinvested in our farms and ranches instead goes to line the pockets of lawyers and accountants.”

In addition, Stallman announced two organizational initiatives. Participants in the Farm Bureau Women and Young Farmers and Ranchers programs will spearhead a nationwide fund-raising effort to provide targeted aid to farm families who were hit by the tsunami disaster. Farm Bureau members were also asked to donate to the USO “Beef Up Our Troops” campaign, through which U.S. troops serving overseas will receive packets of American beef jerky, which Stallman called “a little taste of home.”

In closing, Stallman told Farm Bureau members that the grassroots public policy positions they “develop, debate and implement are Farm Bureau’s foundation.” He said AFBF would continue to work boldly and passionately on their behalf.

“We will tell your stories of success, and we will not allow any meaningful challenge to our policies – or our profession – to go unanswered,” he said. “We will never hesitate to share the message that it is because of you and your work that people around the world are better fed, better clothed and better housed. And, that because of you and your families, your nation is better off.

“Your chosen profession remains at the essential core of our great nation. Your farms and ranches nourish the flame of freedom that Lady Liberty holds high for the world to follow.”

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com