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Rep. Owens leads effort to put agriculture programs in limelight

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After a stalemate in Congress last year undermined efforts to pass a five-year farm bill, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, is leading a charge to enact legislation to help farmers this year.

Mr. Owens, who held a conference call with reporters Friday, is getting a jumpstart this year by reintroducing agriculture legislation that fizzled along with the farm bill proposed in 2012. Congress ended up passing a nine-month continuing resolution to extend the 2008 farm bill through September.

The following three bills were introduced by Mr. Owens:

n House Resolution 1298 would streamline the export of apples to Canada by exempting bulk shipments from inspection under the Apple Export Act.

n H.R. 1297, the Agricultural Credit Expansion Act, would allow more types of business structures to qualify for loans through the Farm Service Agency, giving family farms more access to credit during difficult times. Limited liability corporations, partnerships and trusts would become eligible loan applicants.

n H.R. 1272 would support state efforts to promote research and education related to maple syrup production, natural resource sustainability in the maple syrup industry, market promotion of maple products and greater access to lands containing maple trees for sugaring activities.

Ideally, Mr. Owens said, these programs will be woven into the five-year farm bill that will be considered for approval this fall. Introducing them early is important, he said, because they probably won’t end up in the overall law if lawmakers don’t understand their importance. It’s a nugget of wisdom Mr. Owens learned the hard way last year, when a concerted effort to get the farm bill passed was blocked by the Republican leadership in the House after it was approved in the Senate.

“You have to be extremely proactive on explaining why these things are important,” he said. “This is one of the ways to highlight the legislation and get it into the hopper so that, when we start talking about the farm bill, it won’t be from scratch.”

Both farmers and maple producers in the north country would stand to benefit from the legislation. The credit expansion bill, for example, would benefit small family-owned farms by giving them a variety of methods to apply for funding.

“We have many farms that are in the process of being transferred to the second and third generations, and techniques used for that are LLCs, partnerships and trusts,” Mr. Owens said.

He said the bill to support the state’s maple industry would assist producers by providing them with greater access to land. He called the limited availability of land for producers their “main stumbling block,” because much of it is state-owned.

“We hope we can reach out and help farmers get access to land,” he said. “We want to reach out to groups like the state Nature Conservancy and land trusts, making sure people see this as a worthwhile endeavor and will not do any damage to trees.”

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