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FarmFest: Farm bill does not end federal ag work

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. -- Despite newly enacted federal farm policy that is supposed to last for five years, more agriculture-related work remains to be done in Washington.

Most important is to make sure the Bush administration and its successor implements what Congress passed, top farm experts told a FarmFest audience in southwestern Minnesota Wednesday.

Presidents of the country's two major farm organizations said that is their main concern now. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman and National Farmers Union President Tom Buis said other issues also remain unresolved.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., said the primary immediate issue is whether the Bush administration and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, a former North Dakota governor, implement a country of origin labeling provision.

The provision requires labels on meat and other agriculture products telling consumers in what country the product originated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is supposed to implement that by the end of next month.

Klobuchar, a Senate Agriculture Committee member, said she will watch the administration "to make sure that nothing goes wrong with any rulemakings in the next few months."

She said some farm belt lawmakers were concerned when the Bush administration said some farm programs need to be cut. Bush issued two farm bill vetoes earlier this year, with Congress overriding him each time.

Stallman said there is not enough money in the farm bill to fully implement all of its provisions, so farm groups must make sure Congress approves that money.

Buis said farm opponents like to say farmers got $300 billion in the farm bill, but that is just twisting the facts. More than 70 percent of that money goes to nutrition programs such as food stamps, he said, and not to farmers.

The trio responded to questions from some of the several hundred people who attended a forum about federal issues.

Among the questions was a complaint about school textbooks not accurately representing modern farmers.

"We actually go to publishers and point those things out," Stallman said. "We have had some degree of success."

The Farm Bureau national leader suggested that rural parents check their children's books to make sure they are accurate.

Klobuchar said one of the main rural debates in Congress will be how to increase broadband Internet service.

Working with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Klobuchar said she hopes to see a bill pass to push rail transportation rates lower. She said she does not expect it to pass this year, but there "will be a major push next year."

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.