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Our Opinion: A good bill for the Valley

May 10, 2002

The federal farm bill, which is pieced together every few years, is always packed with goodies for favored crops and industries around the nation. The farm bill always exemplifies "pork" in more ways than one. The bill that has been approved by Congress and will go to the president for likely signing soon is no different.

For reasons including its crop choices, the farm bill usually doesn't have much in the way of goodies for the Imperial Valley. But the farm bill before the president will provide opportunities for our area.

The chief opportunity could and should revolve around allowing the Imperial Valley to grow sugar cane. Farm regulations in the past had only allowed the traditional cane states (Hawaii, Louisiana, Florida, Texas) to grow sugar cane, but a provision in the new bill will allow California to grow the crop. If things work out as planned, most of that California cane will be grown here in the Valley.

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Test crops have shown that the Valley, which has long been a sugar beet growing center, can grow highly productive sugar cane. Bright and innovative local businessmen want to use our local Holly Sugar plant, now run only part of the year to process sugar beets, into a plant that can also process sugar cane. Those involved would set up operations to also use the sugar cane for ethanol, for which there should be a boom market, and to create power. Sugar cane could be an economic bonanza for the Valley, meaning millions of new dollars generated and hundreds of jobs created.

That we will be allowed to grow sugar cane in the Imperial Valley is to the credit of those local businessmen, who lobbied Congress hard for the provision, and to our local congressional representatives who worked hard to get the provision included. Now let's hope the sugar cane industry takes off in the Valley.

Specialty crops grown in the Imperial Valley such as asparagus also will get a boost from the farm bill. The bill authorizes the federal government to purchase no less than $200 million annually in specialty crops, much of which would be used for the school lunch program. Along with being good for the children, such a program helps prop up the market for the specialty crops.

The bill also allows legal immigrants who have lived in this country for five years to get food stamp benefits and has no such residency requirements for children and the disabled. Many people in the Imperial Valley should benefit from those provisions.

While there aren't big goodies in the farm bill for the Imperial Valley, there are good things in it that can make our lives better.

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