The House Small Business Committee today brought together a broad cross-section of agriculture producers and rural organizations to examine the needs of small family farms and rural entrepreneurs in the upcoming debate on the 2007 Farm Bill.
Among the groups represented during the hearing:
* National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
* National Farmers Union
* National Corn Growers Association
* National Association of Wheat Growers
More than 70 percent of the nation's 2 million farms are small businesses-entrepreneurs that contribute to rural economies, and support their local communities by using the goods and services of thousands of other small firms.
"Small family farms are a critical part of rural communities, creating long-term stability and supporting entrepreneurship in the communities around them," said Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez. "We need to increase opportunity in rural areas, develop local resources, and sustain economic growth."
Many rural communities are coping with declining populations and wages, heightening the need for a comprehensive policy that creates new, more diverse economic opportunities. At the hearing, witnesses emphasized the need for high-quality economic growth. By creating an environment where small firms flourish, communities can maintain capital assets and create jobs that support rural families, including farmers.
These economic-development challenges are at the heart of the 2007 Farm Bill. It will address a wide range of issues -- such as rising energy costs, access to new markets, price supports and rural development -- that impact family farms and agribusinesses today.
Producers representing a variety of sectors within the industry discussed their priorities for the upcoming Farm Bill. Changes to the bill's commodity programs -- affecting the scope and size -- could have far-reaching effects on the competitiveness of farmers across the industry. Witnesses emphasized fruits and vegetables as potential new markets for small producers and, therefore, jobs and economic activity.
In addition to commodity programs, energy initiatives have assisted small producers, whose crops are fueling an expanding renewable energy sector. Small companies urged support for alternatives like cellulosic ethanol, and for infrastructure to further develop this booming industry where small businesses have taken the lead.
Infrastructure and other durable community resources may play a larger role in rural development discussions. Modifications to regulatory requirements, as well as the loans available in rural communities are a necessity to assisting small family farmers. These changes have the ability to create new opportunities and growth throughout rural America.
"In this year's Farm Bill, the stakes are high for small producers and agribusinesses, and it is critical that they are involved in this debate," Velázquez asserted. "Expanding markets and spurring opportunities for family farmers will help create a sustainable, prosperous future for rural areas nationwide."
The committee's assessment of the Farm Bill's impact on small producers is part of its ongoing work to promote economic development and entrepreneurship in rural America.
Last month, the committee passed the Small Energy Efficient Business Act of 2007, which offers assistance for the purchase and development of new energy technologies -- including biofuels -- through loans, education, and investment.
More than 20 agriculture trade organizations gathered at a recent Small Business Committee roundtable to discuss policies impacting small farmers and rural small businesses. The Subcommittee on Rural and Urban Entrepreneurship has also examined the ability of broadband to promote rural economic development.
To watch video highlights from today's Farm Bill hearing on YouTube, click here.
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