VAIL, COLORADO - With tight budgets on Capitol Hill and opponents of agriculture willing to spend millions to target the farm safety net, rural America must come together to fend off attacks in the 2012 Farm Bill and to speak up for production agriculture.

That's according to former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX), who told participants of the 27th International Sweetener Symposium that a proven vehicle with a positive brand already exists to provide such coordination.

The American Sugar Alliance, together with the National Cotton Council, National Association of Wheat Growers, Minnesota Corn Growers Association, and USA Rice Federation, created a coalition in 2007 called Farm Policy Facts, which delivers accurate, positive information about agriculture to Congress.

Farm Policy Facts has expanded since and spun off a new project last year, The Hand That Feeds U.S., whose mission is to help educate and establish better relationships with urban reporters. This project, Combest said, has 15 participating associations from the corn, wheat, cotton, sugar, peanut, sorghum, and ethanol industries.

"Farm Policy Facts and The Hand That Feeds U.S. have been extremely successful and popular, and they put agriculture in a much better situation headed into the next Farm Bill," he said, noting a positive reception by key lawmakers and reporters in the major media markets that the coalition has visited, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

The biggest challenge now, Combest explained, is to bring new organizations into the coalition.

"It's ironic that opponents of farm policy wrongly vilify our industry as rich corporate agribusinesses," Combest told the group, "yet we don't always have the funds to properly defend ourselves. That's why it's so important for all of rural America to join forces, and the existing coalition has an established brand with the blueprint for success."

Combest said discussions are underway with other farm organizations to join Farm Policy Facts and The Hand That Feeds U.S. to ensure agriculture's positive message is heard by the right people as the 2012 Farm Bill debate gets underway.

SOURCE: The Hand that Feed U.S.