Betting the Farm

New plan for the Farm Bill from Sens. Dole and CAP Distinguished Senior Fellow Daschle follows the path of CAP’s proposals.

Former Sens. Bob Dole and Center for American Progress Distinguished Senior Fellow Tom Daschle released a report today calling for major changes in agricultural policy as the Farm Bill goes through reauthorization this year. The report, “Competing and Succeeding in the 21st Century: New Markets for American Agriculture,” argues that implementing new policies can allow farmers to take advantage of critical emerging markets, save taxpayer money, and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

The report comes four months after the Center for American Progress’ own response to the 2007 Farm Bill, “Fueling a New Farm Economy: Creating Incentives for Biofuels in Agriculture and Trade Policy.” The report lays out a blueprint for using the Farm Bill to boost the agricultural economy and the American economy, confront global warming and promote energy security, combat global poverty, and enliven free trade.

The four key themes of Dole’s and Daschle’s report closely mirror the measures that the Center for American Progress is calling for. Their four overarching ideas are:

  • Securing an economically vibrant future for American agriculture requires a more expansive and creative approach to farm policy.
  • Emphasizing new markets and increasing farmers’ equity share in value-added enterprises provides the best foundation for expanding opportunity in rural communities.
  • Increasing the role of America’s farms in energy production can be achieved at a net savings to the federal budget because increased demand for corn and other crops to serve the rapidly growing alternative-fuels market will naturally reduce outlays for traditional “safety net” programs.
  • Federal action to establish a mandatory program to limit greenhouse gas emissions is sensible and will provide agricultural producers with significant new market opportunities.

CAP’s plan pays similar attention to investing in the next generation of biofuels; its issues span four main areas of focus:

  • Rapidly and deliberately developing the next generation of advanced cellulosic biofuels by targeting “green payments” to farmers for performing environmental services on their working lands, rewarding farmers for agricultural practices that combat climate change, increasing funds in the new farm bill for existing renewable energy programs, and encouraging farmer-owned-and-operated biorefineries and local-owned biofuel plant cooperatives.
  • Investing in dedicated energy crops like switchgrass, miscanthus, jatropha, and poplar to produce biofuels, which would enable the U.S. to substitute 25 percent of its petroleum energy needs with cellulosic biofuels, generate $700 billion of new economic activity on our rural communities and earn farmers $180 billion in new net income within two decades.
  • Jumpstarting the stalled Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations to enable a modest step toward global poverty reduction by implementing a WTO-compatible “green payment” program for farmers and encouraging modest reinvestment of current commodity-based subsidies, gradually reducing the current 54-cent-per-gallon U.S. tariff on imported biofuels, and supporting “development-friendly” agricultural support for the world’s poorest nations.
  • Using biofuels to combat climate change by creating a nationwide network of service stations selling E85 fuel, promoting the sale of Flexible Fuel Vehicles, encouraging public awareness of biofuel alternatives in the marketplace, and boosting research and development in advanced biofuels and biobased technologies.

The United States Congress this year has the opportunity to lead action on alternative energy as it reauthorizes the Farm Bill. It’s a bold vision, but one that can work.

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