In The News - Text
Mar 09 2012
Senator John Hoeven
(The Hill) Anyone who has spent much time on a farm or ranch knows that America’s producers are problem solvers. Growing and raising the nation’s food supply rarely happens under perfect conditions, and success depends on a producer’s ability to persevere and adapt to conditions on the ground.
Likewise, reauthorization of the Farm Bill is occurring during difficult fiscal times. I firmly believe Congress can and should pass a Farm Bill this year, but Congress needs, just like our farmers and ranchers, to roll up its sleeves and deliver a farm safety net that allows our farmers to continue providing our nation’s families with the lowest cost, highest quality food supply in the world.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I urge all Americans to take a closer look at what our farm policies accomplish and what they really cost. Farm programs represent less than one quarter of one percent of federal spending, and yet for that small fraction of the federal budget, the American people get a stable, safe, and affordable food supply. In fact, Americans spend just 9.5 percent of their income on food, less than any other country. In addition, agriculture employs about 14 percent of the U.S. workforce, and agriculture exports generate about 600,000 jobs in the non-farm sector alone.
I think it is clear that the American people are getting a good deal when it comes to farm policy, but in these times of real financial challenges, we all need to be willing to help get our country back on the right fiscal track. At the same time, any reductions should not come at the expense of a cost-effective safety net that works for our farmers or undermines our food security. Our producers are willing to do their fair share to help balance the budget, particularly if we focus on providing our producers what they need most: risk management tools.
As someone who has run a community bank, I can tell you that when farmers walk through the doors of their local lender for an operating loan, they need a strong farm safety net behind them. That is why producers must be able to demonstrate year after year that they can manage their risk. When you boil the farm safety net down to its most basic function, it really does come down to risk management. North Dakota farmers have reminded me that the only thing that is certain about the high commodity prices that we have today is that they will change. Not to mention that if you do not have a crop to harvest, high prices do not do you any good – almost a quarter of the acres in my state this year could not be planted due to weather.
It is important that as Congress takes up the Farm Bill reauthorization this year, we work to strengthen crop insurance. I have confidence that the members of our Agriculture Committee can work together to pass a strong Farm Bill under the leadership of Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Ranking Member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). As part of that effort, I have been working with three members of the committee, Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and John Thune (R-S.D.), on a proposal designed to strengthen the farm bill’s risk management mission.
This proposal will preserve existing crop insurance, help farmers buy higher levels of crop insurance coverage, and reduce the risk of failure for producers who are exposed to repetitive, shallow losses. Also, in a sector as diverse as agriculture, there remains a need to have programs designed specifically for certain commodities, such as the sugar program that operates at no-net cost to the federal government. I believe that for the majority of farmers, our proposal could serve as a powerful tool to manage price and yield losses in a fashion that is consistent with the budget constraints we face.
In the coming weeks, the debate over our nation’s farm policies will intensify. During that time, Congress needs to recognize the fact that producers generate tremendous economic activity, and they do so in the face of high input and capital costs, while dealing with unpredictable markets and weather. It is my hope that members from rural and urban areas, from both sides of the aisle, realize that food security is not a regional or a partisan issue, and that we have a responsibility to pass a strong Farm Bill.
Sen. Hoeven is a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.