Senator defends Farm Bill vote

U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., has drawn fire from Democrats for not signing off on the Senate version of the Farm Bill.

But he is supported in that move by both the Oregon Farm (OBF) Bureau and the American Farm Bureaus, which are also concerned about a provision they believe threatens the water rights of Western farmers.

"The Oregon Farm Bureau fully supports Senator Smith's decision to oppose this flawed piece of legislation," said Barry Bushue, OFB president. "The Reid amendment was a slap in our face, and we applaud Sen. Smith for standing up for Oregon farmers."

However, the Democratic Party of Oregon is urging its citizens to "call Sen. Smith's bluff" by demanding an explanation of his "nay" vote.

"It's about time Sen. Smith is held accountable for his actions rather than being given credit for his empty rhetoric," said Neel Pender, Democratic Party executive director. "Smith spends a lot of time and money touting support for rural Oregonians, but let the record show that Gordon Smith is no friend to Oregon farmers, his vote again betrays proud Oregon families and businesses struggling to make ends meet and is inexcusable."

But Smith said concern for Oregon's economically struggling farmers is exactly what kept him from signing legislation that allocated federal funds for the acquisition of water rights from farmers to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

"The message I sent with my vote is that politics doesn't belong in farm policy," said Smith. "Oregon's farmers have been through enough in the past year without having to cede even more control of their water to government authorities. The amendment offered by Sen. Reid asks farmers to do just that."

Last Wednesday the Farm Bill, S.1731, passed the Senate by a vote of 58-40. It will now go into the joint House-Senate conference where provisions from both versions will be reviewed for a final draft of the bill. The combined legislation will be voted on by both bodies later this year before being sent to the president for his signature.

Camille Hukari, head of Hood River's Tractor Coalition, said the good news in both the House and Senate versions is that country-or-origin labeling is included. She said local farmers are "elated" about the probability that their lobby efforts have paid off and shoppers may soon be given a clear choice to "Buy American" produce.

She is also hopeful Smith's proposed Conservation Security Act will be included. That legislation allows farmers to contract with the government and get paid up to $50,000 annually for using "good stewardship" practices in land management.

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