'Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I want to begin by congratulating our distinguished Agriculture Committee chairman, Collin Peterson, and our colleagues for bringing to the floor a farm bill that enjoys the support of the American Farm Bureau, the National Farmers Union, and a wide array of conservation and nutrition groups.
'I will support the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act because it begins to reform farm policy while investing in energy independence, supporting conservation, strengthening nutrition assistance, and recognizing the importance of specialty crops. It recognizes the vital role of our farmers and ranchers in providing food, fiber, and fuel for
'I strongly support the efforts Chairman Peterson has made in this bill to ensure that
'The 2007 Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act makes an historic $2.4 billion investment in renewable energy, including biofuels and wind power. It boosts renewable energy investments by 600 percent and provides loan guarantees for the development of refineries that process renewable fuels. These efforts will help ensure that we send our energy dollars to the Midwest and across
'Energy independence is a national security issue, it is an environmental issue, and it is an economic issue for our nation and
'This farm bill also recognizes that those who work the land -
'In the area of conservation, the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Bill improves access to, and funding for, initiatives that take environmentally sensitive lands out of production. It encourages environmentally friendly practices on working lands. And it will invest $4.3 billion in new mandatory spending to preserve farm and ranchland, improve water quality, enhance soil conservation, air quality, and wildlife habitats on working lands.
'While many conservation advocates push for more funding for these valuable conservation initiatives, several organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy, and American Farm Trust support the conservation funding in this bill.
'To aid in this effort, the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy bill invests over $11 billion over ten years in nutrition initiatives to help low-income families. For the first time in 30 years, this bill increases the minimum food stamp benefit and increases and indexes to inflation the standard deduction, ensuring that rising food costs do not erode a family's purchasing power. It also eliminates the cap on childcare costs to help the working poor. The food stamp provisions in this bill will prevent benefit cuts for more than 13 million Americans over next five years.
'That is why the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Catholic Charities USA,
'This bill makes a historic investment in specialty crops, providing a $1.7 billion in new mandatory spending. This investment was made possible by the leadership of Congressman Dennis Cardoza and many provisions in his bill, the EAT Healthy America Act, were incorporated into the bill before us today. This legislation supports specialty crop growers by increasing market access, encouraging and facilitating consumption of nutritious agricultural products, funding research programs and increasing opportunities for family farmers in conservation initiatives.
'Specifically, this bill invests $365 million for Specialty Crop Block Grants, $350 million to expand the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable School Snack Program to all 50 states, $215 million to create a new, dedicated research program for specialty crops, $200 million to create a new initiative for early detection, prevention and eradication for emerging pests and disease, and $55 million for organic agriculture.
'Specialty crops producers - our fruit and vegetable growers - account for nearly half of all the cash crop receipts in American, and are a part of the farm economy in all 50 states, especially important in Calfornia, the Northeast, Northwest, and
'This bill is supported by the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, a national coalition of more than 120 specialty crop organizations.
'The farm bill also includes key provisions that invest in rural communities, including economic development programs and access to broadband telecommunication services to bridge the digital divide in rural, underserved areas.
'It also addresses the health care, emergency, and first responder needs of rural areas, as well as creating new markets and rebuilding rural infrastructure.
'And it pays special attention to the area of minority outreach and socially disadvantaged farmers by including an additional $150 million to provide greater outreach, coordination and technical assistance.
'Finally, this bill does take a critical step toward reform by eliminating farm payments to millionaires and closing loopholes that for decades have allowed some to evade farm payment limits.
'The Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act will ensure that future farm bills will never again look like those of the past. And thanks to the efforts of Chairman Peterson and many others, who have made a historic investment in energy independence and nutrition assistance, this bill's effects will also be felt far from farm country.
'As George Washington said: 'I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture...'
'That was as true then, as it is now.
'Washington understood, as this bill's authors understand, that encouraging and investing in American agriculture pays dividends for the entire nation. In this farm bill, we will strengthen American agriculture, but we will also do much more.
'We will help reignite rural America's economic engine and create good paying jobs here it home. We will fuel our nation's energy needs through clean, American-made, renewable energy. We will be better stewards of the land and protect our environment. And we will be a more caring nation by better meeting the needs of the most vulnerable.
'These great goals can be achieved with the help of this legislation and with the strong, bipartisan support of the House today. I urge my colleagues to vote yes for this New Direction in American farm policy.'