By The Associated Press

NAMPA, Idaho (AP) -- Idaho producers told members of the House Agriculture Committee during a hearing on the new federal farm bill that they need less government regulation and more money spent on agriculture research.

The current $284 billion bill, approved in 2008, expires in September 2012, and members of the committee are holding a series of meetings around the country. They stopped in Idaho on Saturday.

Idaho Reps. Walt Minnick, a Democrat, and Mike Simpson, a Republican, took part in the meeting that also included committee members from California, Oklahoma and other states.

"Compliance with existing programs is too paper-intensive," Minnick said. "We need to help people spend less time farming the government, and more time farming the land."

"Our ability to maintain a cheap, safe, and domestic supply of food in the United States is tied directly to the policies put forth in the farm bill," Simpson said. "Too few people in our nation appreciate the complexities of maintaining a domestic supply of food while too many underappreciate the work, money, and emotion that goes into being a farmer or rancher."

Ron Bitner, owner of Bitner Vineyards, represented the Idaho Wine Commission. He said immigration reform is needed.

"Several different groups said we need to have access to migrant workers but they need to be documented," he said.

A fourth-generation fruit grower from Fruitland, Kelly Henggeler, also wants the guest worker program reformed.

"We lack sufficient legal labor to prune, pick, pack and process our crop," Henggeler said. "Despite our best recruitment efforts, it is difficult, if not often impossible, to find local workers."

Fred Bossy grows organic crops on 300 acres along the Little Wood River. He told committee members he wants U.S. Department of Agriculture grants and low-interest loans made more available to small producers.

Additional meetings are planned in California, Wyoming, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and South Dakota.

Look for more coverage of the Idaho farm bill hearing in the May 7 edition of Capital Press.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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