At a hearing today of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry, Members led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) reviewed legislation requiring the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish an electronic filing and retrieval system, giving farmers the ability to communicate with USDA through the Internet.
"This bill is about access, it's about farmers being able to spend more time in the field and less time filing paperwork," Goodlatte said. "As the various competitors in the broadband marketplace race to provide high speed Internet access to consumers, our producers are in danger of being left behind."
The legislation known as the Freedom to E-File Act (H.R. 852), which was introduced by Representative Ray LaHood (R-IL), enables farmers, ranchers, landowners and borrowers to do more of their business with the USDA on the Internet. In addition, it allows the interested public to have access to information on farm programs, quarterly trade, economic and production reports and other similar information.
"The biggest obstacle to farmers interacting with USDA over the Internet is a familiar face - that is, the face of an old and outdated computer environment at USDA," Goodlatte said.
"Producers have long been frustrated with waiting at local USDA offices to file paperwork, particularly during the time-sensitive harvest period," said LaHood. "Farmers are highly skilled with computers, and we should give them the increased flexibility of filing paperwork electronically. This bill will allow farmers to spend more time in the field and less time at the county office."
"It is high time the USDA gets on-line with rural America," Goodlatte said. "The Internet is farmer-friendly. We have to eliminate the government interference that retards the expansion of the Internet and we need to get USDA operating on a common computing environment. If we don't, I am concerned American farmers and ranchers will lose out."
Goodlatte represents Virginia's Sixth Congressional District, which includes Roanoke, Lynchburg, and the Shenandoah Valley.