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Arizona farmers rally in Washington to urge action on stalled farm bill

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WASHINGTON – Sixteen Arizona farmers left their crops and cattle behind Wednesday and traveled to Washington with the Arizona Farm Bureau to rally at the Capitol for the stalled farm bill.

They joined hundreds of farmers from around the country who came to urge Congress to act before the current farm bill expires Sept. 30.

“If it expires, the dairy provisions revert back to the 1949 Act,” said Eric Rovey, of Rovey Dairy in Glendale. “So a lot of the rules on trading milk, a lot of the rules on payments, those revert back.

“We’ve done all this hard work,” Rovey said. “For that to revert back just because we can’t get together and get this thing passed is really going to hurt the dairy industry.”

The Senate passed a new five-year farm bill in June and the House Agriculture Committee approved its own version in July. Despite the Sept. 30 deadline, however, Republican leaders in the House have not brought the bill to the floor, saying it lacks the votes needed to pass.

Some of the opposition is coming from people like Rep. David Schweikert, R-Scottsdale, who balk at the size of the 10-year, nearly $1 trillion Senate version of the bill. Opponents point out that much of the farm bill actually goes to programs like food stamps.

“If you have something that is called a farm bill, but 80 percent of it is ultimately some sort of social entitlement, welfare spending, the bill should be split,” Schweikert said.

He predicted that if the welfare portions of the bill were stripped out and the agriculture portion of the bill allowed to go up for a vote, it could be passed almost immediately.

“If it comes to the (House) floor under open rules, you could do a splitting amendment and it would give you the opportunity to do more policy work,” Schweikert said.

But outside the Capitol, where chants of “farm bill now” broke out several times, farmers said they just want something to get done.

Congress has traditionally passed an update to the farm bill every four to six years. If Congress can’t pass a new bill, or extend the 2008 law for a year, Rovey said hard work would be lost.

He said the five-year bill passed by the Senate is important to Arizona farmers, because it addresses what they see as important issues.

“It takes care of environmental issues and water issues that we need to get done in order to keep providing food and fiber to the country and the world,” Rovey said.

Philip Bashaw, the Arizona Farm Bureau‘s government relations manager, said the farm bill stalled in the House would address cotton, livestock disaster, and conservation programs, which are important to Arizona farmers.

In an industry that involves long-term planning, Bashaw said passing the bill would also give farmers more financial certainty.

“You’re creating a climate where these farmers can get financing to take the risks that farming takes,” said Bashaw, who was in Washington for the rally.

Schweikert says the position of Arizona farmers is understandable, but the bill’s price tag is too high.

“At some point, you can’t be so duplicitous to say, ‘We’re buried in debt, oh by the way, let’s pass a trillion-dollar bill where you aren’t going to be able to amend it or reform it,’” Schweikert said.

But Rovey seemed to voice the common opinion of farmers at the rally.

“We are trying to race to the finish and get something passed before it expires,” he said. “If we got an extension, it would be OK. It would be better than doing nothing. If we do something it would be best to pass what the Senate has.”