Reduce and simply regulation, promote free trade, including the rapid enactment of pending agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia and support the development of new industry in rural America, producers told Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) during a field hearing on the 2012 Farm Bill. The hearing was held in Wichita on Aug. 25.
Kansas Farm Bureau president Steve Baccus urged streamlining of the 31 programs USDA administers for economic development and groups.
He also urged a common sense approach to regulation, citing a list of proposed rules or guidance on water, GPS systems, smoke and dust, endangered species on private property, livestock emissions and agricultural chemicals.
Ken Grecian, president of the Kansas Livestock Association, also urged reconsideration of new regulation, particularly the proposed revision of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration to expand the government role in the marketing of livestock.
Grecian said the KLA is concerned that the language of the proposed rule is so broad that it would encourage a wave of lawsuits and result in the demise of producers' rights to market their own livestock in a way that allows them to capture the benefits of their efforts to improve the quality of their herd.
Bob Henry, board member of the Kansas Soybean Association, told the senators that international trade is extremely important. Agricultural exports create 1.1 million jobs and $184 billion in annual economic activity, he testified.
Kathleen Brinker, general manager of the Nemaha-Marshall Electric Cooperative, talked about the importance of utility cooperatives to rural communities .
She said the funding provided through Rural Utilities Service (RUS) loans is essential to keeping the lights and air-conditioning on every single day in rural homes and businesses.
In Kansas, rural electric cooperatives average just three customers per mile of distribution line, compared to an average of 19.4 customers per mile for utilities statewide.
She said RUS loans allow coops to upgrade equipment, build new generating capacity, and update technology. The Agriculture Appropriations bill every year sets the limits for RUS loans and Brinker urged that level be maintained at $6.5 billion for 2012.
The Rural Economic Development Loans and Grants Program also allows utilities to obtain zero-interest loans and pass them through to rural entrepreneurs to create jobs in rural communities. As an example, she cited the Koch and Company cabinet and door manufacturer in Seneca, which received a $450,000 loan in 2004 to expand its operations. The project created 55 new jobs and paved the way for two more expansions. The company now has 300 employees, an annual payroll in excess of $8 million and ships its products all over the U.S. and Canada.
On the regulatory front, Brinker asked that rural cooperatives not be burdened by financial reform legislation aimed at derivatives traders.
Robert Tempel, chief operating officer for WindRiver Grain in Garden City, testified to a story of entrepreneurial success.
WindRiver Grain is a commercial grain loading and unloading system initially intended to help move the grain produced in southwest Kansas to the Texas Gulf coast for export. It soon became apparent that other markets including California and Mexico.
In 2007, Conestoga BioEnergy built a 55 million gallon ethanol plant next to the facility, in part because of the excellent relationship WindRiver had with the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad. The new growth brought 39 good paying jobs at the ethanol plant, the Kansas Grain Exchange and WindRiver, but also meant new economic growth in trucking companies and the companies that supply them fuel, tires, repair services, and equipment.
Tempel said the policies in the 2008 Farm Bill provided the catalyst for the company's economic growth, in part because of support for the biofuels industry.
He encouraged new initiatives to support the industry, provide help for the installation of blender pumps and to define grain sorghum ethanol as an advanced bio-fuel.