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Congressman visits Hopkinton farm to talk ag bill

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HOPKINTON — As a House-Senate conference committee prepares to begin discussion of the federal Farm Bill, U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said he hopes an agreement can be reached that will produce benefits for north country agricultural producers.

During a visit to the Norco Farms’ soybean fields in Malone and its processing operation in Hopkinton on Friday morning, Mr. Owens said there are many benefits it he hopes the Farm Bill will bring, such as possibly making milk prices more stable.

“I think that what the Farm Bill has to do is ... create stability of pricing for milk in particular, and in this particular case,” he said, referring to Norco Farms, “make sure they’re eligible for crop insurance. ... Those are the kinds of things the Farm Bill is going to do for folks up here.”

The conference committee is scheduled to begin meeting this week to hammer out a compromise between the Senate-approved bill and two pieces of legislation passed in the House of Representatives. The final compromise package has to be approved by Jan. 1.

Mr. Owens is not a member of the 41-member conference committee.

One of the biggest points of contention will be the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps. The bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate would trim $4 billion from the program; the measure approved by the Republican-controlled House calls for cuts of 10 times that amount.

Mr. Owens said he expects the final figure will be in the range of $4 billion to $10 billion.

“Clearly it’s a much more positive outcome than $40 billion,” he said. “I’m comfortable with those numbers, but clearly we can’t have a $40 billion cut. It’s just not reasonable and would hurt too many people in our communities.”

After seeing Norco Farms’ fields in Franklin County and its processing plant in St. Lawrence County, Mr. Owens said he was impressed.

He noted that while owner Richard S. Eakins said he started out as a dairy farmer, Norco now grows soybeans and corn; both crops are then brought for processing where they are dried and stored. Mr. Owens also said that Mr. Eakins has a trucking business and boards cows.

“One of the reasons I wanted to come here is I was very interested in soybean production,” Mr. Owens said, noting that farms throughout the region are beginning to grow soy beans. “What I perceive is farmers adjusting to different markets.”

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