Emerson starts agricultural tour in Jackson

Saturday, August 25, 2007
U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson kicked off the 26th annual Emerson Farm Tour from the Buchheit store in Jackson on Friday, August 24, 2007.
Kit Doyle

The House of Representatives' version of the 2007 Farm Bill "is actually quite good," U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said Friday as she kicked off her annual agricultural tour.

The measure, which was approved in the chamber July 27 with only 19 Republican votes including Emerson, represents compromise in the face of budget constraints, the six-term Cape Girardeau lawmaker said. "We had to have a strong bill out of the House protecting mid-South agriculture," Emerson said.

In the bill, lawmakers rejected a proposal from President George W. Bush's administration that restricts subsidy payments to farmers with an income of $200,000. Instead, the House imposed a $1 million income limit.

The bill also increased food stamp allotments, paying for the increase with a $4 billion tax increase on foreign corporations with U.S. subsidiaries. Other provisions authorize a permanent disaster program, increase funding for conservation and add support for renewable energy.

Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk with the tax provision attached.

"Everyone was willing to take a hit because of budgetary constraints," Emerson said. "It has become a budgetary issue."

Emerson's tour

Emerson represents the 8th Congressional District, which stretches along the Mississippi River from Ste. Genevieve County to the Arkansas border and west deep into the Ozarks. The district includes Mississippi River Delta farmland with Missouri's only cotton and rice production, large tracts of corn and soybeans as well as livestock operations in the upland areas.

Over the next week, Emerson will stop at farms and farm-related businesses as well as meet with representatives of farm groups. She began the tour at Buchheit farm supply store in Jackson, walking through the store with members of the family that founded it.

They explained how their business supplies, and in turn is supplied by, farmers in the region. Margins are squeezed by imports, John Buchheit said as he and Emerson stopped by a display of herbicide products. The product, he said, competes with Chinese imports, which are lower quality but cheaper.

But the bottom line, Kenny Buchheit told Emerson, is that the company prospers or suffers with the farmers. "Our largest customer is the farmer," he said. "Our largest supplier is the farmer. How well Buchheits is doing reflects how well farmers are doing."

Water problems

But prolonged drought and rising transportation costs are also getting Emerson's attention. The farm bill would provide a permanent disaster program. This year's corn harvest will be good, with high prices, but soybean yields in Southeast Missouri are in danger without substantial rain and the cotton crop is also suffering, MU Extension agronomist Jeff House said.

Even crops with irrigation are faring poorly in the hot, dry conditions, House said. "With some of these systems, the way the water comes out, it looks like it is evaporating before it hits the ground," he said.

And recent low water on the Mississippi has forced some ports to load barges lighter than usual. But in the next week, heavy rain to the north will push the river to near flood stage at Cape Girardeau, a rise of 17 feet from Friday's level.

That is good news for farmers and shippers, House said, with a record corn harvest already underway. "It will take that problem away," he said.

Emerson, however, was concerned about the costs of transportation, not river levels, when late Friday she called for an investigation of shipper charges. In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, Emerson questioned transportation charges that are consuming up to 25 percent of the value of grains.

"We're talking about a major percentage of what our farmers earn at market for their crops, and I just cannot accept the justification for it," Emerson said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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