Addressing citizens of his home state of Kansas at the Governor’s Summit on Agricultural Growth last week, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture acknowledged that “going into this Farm Bill, we are facing tough and critical times.” But, at the same time, the “opportunities are boundless,” he added.
To fully seize them and adequately address the changes in the farming industry that have developed in the past four years since the last Farm Bill passed, Roberts stressed legislators must take a three prong approach that includes improving access to crop insurance, reducing regulatory burdens and strengthening export markets, he said.
“At a time when the agriculture economy is in a period of adjustment, it is important that the role of government be a partner, not an adversary, to farmers and ranchers,” he said. This means recognizing and addressing the changes that have occurred since the 2014 Farm Bill was drafted.
“When the 2014 Farm Bill was written, times were relatively good in agriculture. But as everyone should know, a lot has changed since then,” he said.
For example, he noted, farm income has dropped 50% since the record highs in 2014, as have commodity prices which declined by more than $42 billion in crop receipts and $32 billion in livestock receipts. At the same time, demand for loans are increasing and working capital is decreasing creating a situation where farmers are becoming more leveraged and debt levels continue to rise, he said.
The solution to these challenges comes in three parts, according to the senator. The first is providing producers with sufficient risk management tools, including crop insurance.
“As we move forward with the Farm Bill, there will be outside groups and members of Congress looking to gut the crop insurance program and cut billions of dollars in the name of ‘reform,’” but “now is not the time for additional cuts to a program that producers rely on as a risk management foundation,” he said, noting that beneficiaries live in all 50 states and manage crops ranging from conventional to specialty.
The second prong in Roberts’ three-part plan is to reduce regulatory burdens that he says hurt producers bottom lines.
While he provided scant details, he praised the current administration for “taking an active role at providing regulatory relief to all sorts of burdens for farmers, ranchers, businesses and other Americans,” and said he will work with the administration “to take a common sense approach to regulation that benefits rural America.”
Finally, Roberts said, the new Farm Bill needs to strengthen the US export markets for commodities grown here.
He said US Dept. of Agriculture Sec. Sonny Purdue’s recent move to create the Trade Under Secretary position is one way that the Administration is already elevating the importance of trade, but that the government must continue to focus on expanding market access through negotiated agreements with countries such as Japan and enforcing existing trade agreements and laws.
For example, he said, “I was encouraged on the long overdue agreement made with China to allow US beef access to nearly 1.4 billion Chinese customers.”
To drive home the importance of this piece of the solution, Roberts stressed: “USDA estimates that each $1 of US farm exports produces an additional $1.27 in economic activity, and every billion dollars in agriculture sales overseas supports about 8,000 American jobs.”
He argues this makes clear that “agriculture trade not only benefits the agricultural economy, but it also benefits the entire US economy.”
Reflecting on the task of passing the Farm Bill with these provisions, Roberts acknowledged the process will be challenging, but, he said, “it can be done together in a bipartisan manner.”