The Senate is slowly but surely preparing for a debate on the next farm bill. In April, I held town hall meetings in 13 counties to talk with Iowans about the farm bill. Many Iowans and farmers brought up similar ag-related concerns. Farm payment limits, the commodity title, corn prices and renewable fuels seem to be on the minds of everybody. I brought their common-sense input back to Washington with me to go to work on the bill. I will remain committed to these issues and the principles I've laid out over the last several months. It's my hope that many of these proposals will be a part of the 2007 farm bill. Competition is the No. 1 issue facing agriculture today. Vertical integration leaves the independent producer with even fewer choices of who to buy from and sell to. Simply put, concentration hurts the ability of the family farmer to get a fair price for their products.
Because concentration is at the forefront of the farm bill debate, I've introduced several bills to address the issue. One piece of legislation I've introduced would make it unlawful for a packer to own or feed livestock intended for slaughter. Outlawing packer ownership of livestock would make sure the forces of the marketplace work for the benefit of the farmer just as much as it does for the slaughterhouse. The Packer Ban excludes single pack entities and packers that are too small to participate in the Mandatory Price Reporting program. The bill also exempts farmer cooperatives where the members own, feed, or control the livestock themselves.
As the CEO of a major slaughter house said to a group of farmers: "You wonder why we own livestock? Well, we own livestock so that when prices are high we kill our own and when prices are low we buy from the farmer." It's pretty clear to see from this statement what their intent is and how unfair it is to the family farmer.
The Market Transparency Act is another piece of legislation that looks to address concentration. The bill would require that 25 percent of a packer's daily kill comes from the spot market. This legislation would guarantee that the packers are in the cash markets, purchasing livestock from independent producers every day. Legislation I introduced that would limit mandatory arbitration in contracts between farmers and large agribusiness firms has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. I hope to push this legislation during the farm bill as well. The legislation would allow farmers the opportunity to choose the best form of settlement and not have to submit to the packers. I also plan to introduce payment limits legislation with Sen. (Byron) Dorgan as soon as possible.
The farm payments were originally created to help small and medium-sized family farmers and are now benefiting the largest corporate farms. We're still working out the kinks in the legislation, but the bill would place hard caps on direct payments, counter cyclical payments and marketing loan gains. Beyond concentration, I'm also working to get legislation included in the farm bill that would allow for nearly 75,000 black farmers to get their casesheard -- from the Pigford Claims Remedy Act -- based on the merits of their case. These farmers were previously denied claim to the settlement because of procedural motions, not the merits of their case.
Black farmers should get fair consideration of their case and up to this point the Department of Agriculture hasn’t allowed it to happen. I also would like to see a provision in the farm bill that would exempt agricultural dust from regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency. I'm concerned about the final rule issued by the EPA on coarse particulate matter which could have a devastating affect on agriculture. Their complex rule in time could regulate all aspects of anything from combine dust to feedlot dust and even the dust from gravel roads that lead to many farms. Thanks again to KETV for helping me communicate with Iowans. I encourage all of you to stay in touch with me and visit me when I'm in your area.