More than 150 farmers attending a farm day forum sent a message to Washington via Louisiana Congressmen Charles W. Boustany Jr., and Charlie Melancon and Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Keenum: They need a new farm bill and need it now.

Boustany, a Republican who represents Louisiana’s 7th congressional district, and Melancon, a Democrat who represents the 3rd district, co-hosted the farm day forum in Jeanerette in south Louisiana on Wednesday (Feb. 20).

“Today, I heard from hundreds of farmers from southwest Louisiana who talked about their need for a new farm bill,” Boustany said. “Our farmers need a responsible farm bill, and they need it now.”

Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have passed their versions of a new farm bill, but the House-Senate conference committee that must reconcile the bills has yet to meet because of a threat of a presidential veto.

In addition to Boustany and Melancon, Mark Keenum, Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, participated in panel discussions as well as question and answer sessions. The annual forum provides information for farmers and ranchers in Louisiana about current legislation and policies in Washington affecting agriculture.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson and ranking member Robert Goodlatte have been trying to negotiate a compromise farm bill with administration officials, but have run into opposition from Senate leaders who say the House proposal fails to provide enough funding for commodity, conservation and nutrition programs.

Boustany, the only Louisiana member of the House Agriculture Committee, said he will continue to fight for a “sensible commodity title and against tax increases on the agricultural community.”

Other Republican congressmen have also been speaking out about the lack of progress on the 2008 farm bill with Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, noting that six months have passed since the House passed its version of the legislation.

“It has been two months since the Senate passed its farm bill,” said Neugebauer. “It is past time for all parties involved to get in the room and work this out. Congress needs to get its job done.”

Neugebauer said the proposal announced by Rep. Peterson on Feb. 12 was aimed at trying to get the House and Senate to agree on a total spending number so the House and Senate could arrive at a final bill.

“There are many options in the Chairman’s outline that I do not like, but I am hopeful it will be catalyst for moving this process forward. Both the Senate and the House agree that the first step toward completing a farm bill is determining how much we are going to spend. Up to this point, there has been virtually no progress in accomplishing even this first step.”

Neugebauer said he had also spoken with Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer and stressed that when the House and Senate reach an agreement on a farm bill, “President Bush must sign the bill.

“Completing a farm bill is going to require perseverance, and I am committed to continuing efforts to protect the interests of agriculture in the 19th District. I’ve been listening and talking with farmers and commodity group leaders from the district today and will continue to rely on their input in this process.”

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com