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Owens, League of Women Voters hold farm bill forum

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POTSDAM - There were plenty of comments and concerns shared at Saturday’s hour-long Farm Bill Listening Forum held by Rep. William L. Owens and the League of Women Voters at Clarkson University.

“There was a wide spectrum and variety of concerns that people had,” Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said following the late morning forum that drew between 40 and 50 audience members.

The forum provided an opportunity for agriculture groups, family farmers and the general public to provide input on the next Farm Bill, which Congress is currently scheduled to take up later this year.

Mr. Owens has said that, as the House Agriculture Committee continues to craft the next Farm Bill, he believed it was important to hear first-hand from constituents who represented local agriculture interests.

“There was a wide spectrum and a variety of concerns that people had. Many of them were particular to specific industries, if you will. Our region is home to a diverse agricultural community and it is critical that the next farm bill include support for those industries,” Mr. Owens said.

Some of those comments concerned dairy farming “and the need to try and preserve small farms,” he said.

“We heard from a couple of large dairy farmers as well, specialty crop folks and people supporting small farms. It’s the entire spectrum of the Farm Bill. It was a good discussion,” Mr. Owens said.

Among the topics, he said, was discussion about Yankee Credit, part of the national Farm Credit System, which provides credits to farmers during rough stretches.

“Clearly many of the people in the room were dairy farmers. That was probably the single most focused series of comments and concerns,” he said.

There were many different viewpoints on topics brought up Saturday, according to the congressman, who said everyone respected the opinions of others.

“It was incredibly civil. What was impressive is, not only were people’s comments to me civil, but the responses that the audience had to the people’s concerns was also civil. It was a really good feeling. It was obvious people had very different points of view, but there was a complete demonstration of respect for the different views,” Mr. Owens said.

Saturday’s forum isn’t the only opportunity for farmers to share their concerns with Mr. Owens. He has also been visited farms in the area to get first-hand accounts of the problems individuals in agriculture are facing.

“What we’re doing in addition to this forum is we’ve been going around visiting dairy farms in the area and producers in the area. We are trying to get the full spectrum of issues. We’ll talk to specialty crop people, apple growers and other specialty crops, to make sure we have a complete understanding of how the current Farm Bill impacts our farmers and take all that back. As we’re going through the Farm Bill, we’ll apply the lessons we’ve learned in this process to positions I take in the Farm Bill,” Mr. Owens said.

He recently visited the Timothy A. Joanette dairy farm in Helena, where standing among 190 cows he heard concerns about the cost of fuel and feed, the lack of avenues to purchase fertilizer and parts, as well milk prices.

The congressman toured a larger farm with 1,900 cows on Friday.

“Now we’ll try to get to get to a medium-sized so we can get their input,” he said. “As the bill goes on, we’ll try to do more of the kind of activities that we did today. We may even have specific forums for specialty crops and for dairy. We’re hearing from people again what is actually happening to them.”

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