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State task force providing base for farm policies
OSAGE BEACH, Mo. -- While warning that budget constraints will prevent increased state spending for agriculture in the short term, Gov. Bob Holden on Monday lauded the findings of a six-month effort that will provide the framework for his administration's long-term agricultural policy.
In June, Holden, a Democrat, appointed a 38-member task force charged with examining ways of bolstering Missouri's farm sector. He discussed the result of the task force's work during the governor's annual agricultural conference, which was attended by more than 650 people.
"We must recognize the value of change and harness the opportunities it provides to build a better and stronger agriculture in Missouri," Holden said.
However, Holden said that the state's financial situation, for now, will force the department to do more with less. Including cuts announced last week, the department's budget for the current fiscal year has been reduced by $4.1 million, or 26 percent.
Based in part on input from more than 700 people who testified during hearings around the state, the task force offered four broad goals:
Creating a more favorable business climate for Missouri agriculture.
Developing new and expanded product and market development opportunities for Missouri agricultural products, both raw and processed.
Expanding access to capital for business creation and expansion.
Creating an organizational and communications infrastructure to better serve the needs of the agricultural community.
Agriculture department officials and lawmakers will soon begin crafting specific initiatives based on the suggestions.
"This is not a one-year plan," Holden said. "The recommendations stem from grass-roots information and will drive state agriculture policy and legislation for years to come."
Dr. Randy Shaw, dean the School of Polytechnic Studies at Southeast Missouri State University, attended the conference. He said the recommendations provide a starting point for a serious focus on agricultural issues.
"It is a good foundation," Shaw said. "We'll see what happens."
State Sen. Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff and a task force member, said some legislation addressing the recommendations will be filed during the 2002 legislative session, which begins next month.
However, he said, the effort will be ongoing, with the major thrust coming in 2003.
By that time, Foster said, he is hopeful the economy, and therefore state revenues, will have improved to provide the financial backing for new initiatives.
"I really believe some good things will come of this," Foster said. "I also believe Governor Holden is going to do a good job trying to help us fund agriculture more when money becomes available."
Foster, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said advances in life sciences research in the coming years will expand production and open new markets for Missouri agricultural goods for pharmaceutical and medical uses.
"I really believe that through biotechnology, agriculture hasn't seen its best day yet," Foster said. "Some of these farmers have really scrimped to get by. Their day is coming, and they will reap the financial rewards if they can just hang on another year or two."
Other Southeast Missourians on the task force were Republican state Rep. Peter Myers Sr. of Sikeston, Mo., Missouri Farm Bureau president Charles Kruse of Dexter, Mo., and David Blakemore of Campbell, Mo., the general manager of B&B Cotton Co.