King outlines priorities for Maine as Farm Bill heads to conference

11 years ago

King outlines priorities for Maine

as Farm Bill heads to conference

By Scott Mitchell Johnson
Staff Writer

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the Senate and House prepare to reconcile the differences between their two versions of the Farm Bill, U.S. Sen. Angus S. King Jr. (I-Maine) sent a letter Oct. 29 to Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Thad Cochran, chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, respectively, outlining several farming and food issues of particular importance to Maine.

    “Farming is a pillar of our state economy and the final provisions of this year’s Farm Bill will have a substantial impact on thousands of Mainers for years to come,” said King. “I recognize that reconciling the differences between the two bills will be challenging and that compromises will be necessary, but I hope that the conference committee will consider my recommendations for the benefit of Maine.”
    Two issues relevant to Aroostook County include protecting dairy farmers as the United States moves toward a new dairy program, and allowing white potatoes to be included in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food program.
    “The Senate bill contains an essential provision which requires the USDA to begin a hearing process to restructure the milk pricing system and directs the Secretary of Agriculture to release recommendations to Congress,” said King. “The committee should also extend the Milk Income Loss Contract program with a feed adjuster until a new dairy program can be fully implemented. Our dairy farmers already face many challenges, and they deserve some measure of certainty during this transition.”
    Recognizing that fresh white potatoes offer a variety of nutritional benefits at a low cost, King said they should not be excluded from the WIC food program.
    “As we attempt to make nutritious foods more affordable while making the programs more efficient, the option of white potatoes should be available,” he said. “Currently, white potatoes are the only fresh fruit or vegetable excluded by the WIC rules.
    “These same rules allow sugarcane to be purchased with WIC benefits, which undoubtedly has less nutritional value than white potatoes,” said King. “These rules should be changed to allow parents using WIC to buy white potatoes at farmers’ markets and at grocery stores.”
    In his letter, King thanked the senators for their diligence in working to craft a five-year Farm Bill that can “provide our producers with some sense of certainty, and provide our most vulnerable with some sense of food security.”
    Other bullet points in King’s letter include resisting the level of SNAP cuts proposed in the House bill; making changes to the Food Safety Modernization Act to ensure that the legislation doesn’t unduly harm small- and mid-sized farmers; preserving strong conservation programs; continuing to fund beginning farmers and ranchers; and sustaining funding for research and extension, including pest management.