Much of the attention on the new farm bill has focused on the newly defined "farm safety net" -- the Bush Administration's program based on revenue instead of producer prices. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns told the House Ag Committee this week, "a system based solely on a price trigger, without regard for yield, deals people out of the safety net when they need it most."
The finances of farming are complex and still at the top of the minds of those writing the next farm bill.
But while agriculture makes up a large part of rural America – it takes more than farming "to make a rural village". This week on Capitol Hill, lawmakers were reminded not to forget Main Street.
This week, representatives of rural advocacy groups gave the Senate agriculture committee their thoughts on how to spend funds slated for the rural development title in the 2007 farm bill. At stake is $500 million for infrastructure improvements and rural economic development.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa "We need to examine the Department of Agriculture's numerous rural development programs to see what is working and what needs improvement. We also need to foster better coordination among the various federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofit and charitable entities, and private individuals and businesses."
The witnesses were not shy in offering suggestions.
Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs: "...put some money into leadership development at the grass roots level. And engaging people in each small town in this process, 'cause if we put together a regional plan, but the people involved in it are just agency folks and regional leaders, and you don't have leaders in each community that are invested in that and take it home and live it, then it won't work."
Panel members called for the committee to assist regions of the country in banding together to become more competitive in a global marketplace.
Vernon Kelley, Three Rivers Planning and Development District, "If you agree that the world is flat you understand that what now happens across county lines happens across oceans. And without partnerships in building in a region of your businesses and your colleges, as well as your local governments you cannot be successful. The point I'm making is, it's got to be in rural America regionally. No longer can the 5000 town compete because it's not competin' against the 10,000 town. No longer can rural America compete with the Atlanta's and the Memphis's and the Nashville's individually, they have to grow together."
Overall, the panel was confident that rural communities would be able to tap a large pool of knowledgeable experts but without proper funding a successful future for rural America could be in doubt.
Charles Fluharty, Rural Policy Research Institute: "The reality is, this committee must retain the link between rural development and agriculture, whether it's ownership or distribution in renewable energies or it's landscape and local food systems, Mr. Chairman, I would argue, this is the chance to fund what we started in 1970 and recognize it's criticality to agriculture."