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Owens tours Helena farm for input on Farm Bill

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HELENA — With debate continuing in Washington on the Farm Bill, Rep. William L. Owens visited a dairy farm in Helena on Monday to get first-hand information on issues facing today’s farmers.

“I want to go back with right-on-the-ground experiences because I think that’s important,” Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said as he toured the Joanette Farm on County Route 37, Helena.

For Mr. Owens, it was more listening than talking, and owner Timothy A. Joanette and his family had plenty of concerns to share with the congressman during the half-hour visit.

Top among Mr. Joanette’s concerns was the cost of operating the farm, he told Mr. Owens as they stood among 190 cattle feeding in a barn.

“We can’t control our costs,” he said. “Fuel’s been killing us. Something has to be done with this fuel. That’s the big thing. These kind of barns use a lot of fuel, mostly diesel.”

Milk prices coupled with the high cost of feed are also a concern, and farmers suffer when milk prices drop and the cost of feeding the animals increases, Mr. Joanette told Mr. Owens.

“I’d like to have the milk price stable instead of up and down,” he said. “One year it’s survival mode. It does hurt the animals because they don’t get the right nutrition.”

Fertilizer prices and a lack of avenues to purchase it were a concern, too, he said.

“We only have one guy who serves the area,” Mr. Joanette said.

The dairy business is tough enough these days, but the Joanette family took a big hit in August 2006 when a fire destroyed a barn and 148 cows. The family had purchased the farm about three years before that.

They had a chance to showcase their new facility for Mr. Owens during the Monday visit.

Mr. Owens, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, will meet with other area farmers later this month. He and the League of Women Voters will hold a Farm Bill Listening Forum from 11 a.m. to noon Feb. 25 in the Barben Rooms at Clarkson University’s Cheel Campus Center.

The forum will provide an opportunity for agriculture groups, family farmers and the general public to provide input on the next Farm Bill. Congress is scheduled to take up the next Farm Bill later this year.

GardenShare announced on Monday that it will also host a free Farm Bill Workshop at 9 a.m. that day, also in the Barben Rooms, as a prelude to the session organized by Mr. Owens and the League of Women Voters.

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