For Immediate Release
AUGUSTA - State Rep. Peter Edgecomb joined elected agricultural and rural leaders from across North America for working sessions on the key issues facing rural communities at the 10th annual State Legislative Agricultural Chairs Summit. The event took place in Phoenix, Ariz., over three days in mid January.
"This was an outstanding event," said Rep. Edgecomb (R-Caribou), the House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. "We had an opportunity to meet with other folks who represent rural areas and face the same kind of issues we face in Maine. Rural communities and agriculture confront many challenges today. Through conversations and work sessions with other rural policymakers, I came away with ideas to address some of those challenges."
The Chairs Summit was funded in full by about 50 corporations involved in some aspect of agriculture, including Deere & Company, the Dow Chemical Company and Purina Mills. "No tax money was involved," Rep. Edgecomb said. "The sponsors covered airfare and all other expenses."
General sessions focused on agricultural businesses, jobs and economic development in rural areas. "Job creation and retention are major concerns for all policy makers as they wrestle with this tough economy," Rep. Edgecomb said. "Part of the program also dealt with growing existing businesses." A tour of Queens Creek Olive Mill, for instance, provided a good example of a successful agritourism operation.
Other sessions included discussions with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials about the new national animal identification program and how states can maximize federal dollars for their childhood and low-income nutrition programs. The USDA representatives also provided an overview of new federal food safety and egg rules.
"Keeping abreast of trends in agricultural policy is essential," Rep. Edgecomb said. "It is important to understand these changes from all viewpoints to best represent the people of Caribou and our state. One of the USDA officials described a new program called State Exchange that will link states together to identify ways to improve efficiencies and cut costs in our food and SNAP benefit programs." SNAP is the acronym for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the new name for food stamps.
Rep. Edgecomb also took part in discussions about animal antibiotics, dog breeder regulations and low-carbon fuel standards. "The use of ethanol was a major topic of conversation," he said. "In using so much of our nation's corn crop in fuel, we have driven up the cost of feed for cattle and poultry, leading to huge increases in food costs. Many farmers have switched from growing wheat to growing corn to get the federal subsidies, and that explains the enormous increase in the price of bread and other wheat-based products, such as tortillas.
"This massive changeover to ethanol has major drawbacks for livestock producers and consumers," he said, "and to add insult to injury, it takes more fuel to produce ethanol than we get out of it. It seems to be a loser on all counts except for the corn growers who are receiving billions of dollars in subsidies. The whole ethanol program needs a serious reexamination." ###
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