18th July, 2006: STAUNTON, USA - Demand for corn by a growing world market and the United States’ desire to create alternative fuels helped set the agenda for Monday’s hearing of the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee.
The hearing was held at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center.
Committee witnesses included three Rockingham County farmers who represented farming and agricultural interests and testified before the committee. U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, serves as chairman of the panel.
The committee is working on a new farm bill, to be completed in December 2007, which will reflect the direction of U.S. agricultural policy, including the further development of alternative fuels — including ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soybeans.
Farmers who spoke at the hearing expressed concern that the demand for corn and soybeans will drive up the cost of poultry and cattle, which feed on those crops. Those concerns, Goodlatte said, are not new.
"I have always been concerned about that," he said, of how changes in agricultural policy affect farming and livestock production. Goodlatte said more research is needed, particularly, to determine how some of the by-products of alternative fuels can be used by the poultry industry.
"The biggest key to our industry’s profitability," said Rockingham County poultry producer Cecil "Sonny" Meyerhoeffer, "is access to a plentiful, reliable supply of feed, which accounts for 70 percent of the cost of turkey production. … Ensuring a reliable supply of corn is vital, especially in a feed-deficit state like Virginia."
Meyerhoeffer, a director of the National Turkey Federation, urged the agriculture committee to continue current policies that encourage production of corn and soybean to meet the growing demand for the crops.
"With the legislative mandates for ethanol and biodiesel production in the coming years, as well as the growing number of products produced from corn and soybeans, we must be able to meet the acreage requirements for this production," he said.
He noted that increased emphasis on corn production has come at the expense of soybean, which is needed for poultry feed. Some turkey and hog producers are importing soybean meal from Brazil, he said.
"Unless new arable land is found," he said, "more feed ingredients may have to be imported."
Helping farmers stay competitive and maintain their farms was a consistent theme.
For dairymen, said Gerald Heatwole, who has two dairy farms in Rockingham County, help is needed with the cost of transporting milk.
The costs, with rising oil prices, are felt particularly keenly by dairymen in this part of the state because of the distance milk travels to customers, said Heatwole, who lives in McGaheysville.
"Milk from my farm regularly goes into North and South Carolina supplying markets there, but most days it is hauled 485 miles to Charleston."
The cost, he said, falls on producers and makes it difficult to keep their milk competitive with others who do not have the same distance to markets.
The next farm bill should include some sort of economic safety net for dairy farmers, he said. "Safety nets," he said, "prevent prices from falling so low that business becomes unviable."
The viability of Dan King’s 550-acre beef farm north of Harrisonburg is something that the first-generation farmer thinks about for his three teenage sons, who along with his wife, work the property.
King has a number of concerns.
"The new farm bill and other legislation must do all it can to protect us from being harassed by governmental agencies and environmental extremists," he said.
He urged the committee to help farmers with security issues, including the spread of diseases.
Also, he sought committee members’ opposition to a bill that he said would saddle farmers with environmental liabilities intended to target industries.
"As a conservationist," he said, "I do want clean air and water, and I have done a lot on my farm to improve the environment. I do not, however, feel that Superfund legislation was ever intended to impact the family farm."
He also sought their help to promote a limited use of eminent domain and to raise the exemption for the inheritance tax.
King urged lawmakers to meet their deadline. "We cannot afford to have the current bill expire without a new bill in place," he said.