From the Senate Floor: Excerpt from a Nov. 8 Statement

November 8, 2007

By: Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)

[D]espite the fact that our Nation enjoys but does not apparently appreciate the fact that production agriculture does provide this country and a very troubled and hungry world the very best quality food at the lowest price in the history of the world, we have heard a lot of repeated calls for dramatic reform of our farm programs.

Now, while targeted and pertinent reforms in some of our programs are certainly needed, and this bill takes major steps to do that in answering those calls, it seems to me we must be cautious of what lurks under the banner of reform…

During this debate, we have heard from several Members about how farm bill debates rarely fall along party lines and traditionally follow regional interests. This may seem odd to those who have not worked on a farm bill before, but that is the case.

Agriculture in one region can mean something different, very different, than agriculture in some other region. These differences do not just include the crops and the commodities that are produced, there are significant differences in practices, farming practices, and input costs, what it costs to have a successful cropping operation and risk; risk, which is a big-time consideration among the different regions…

As a Senator from a State with higher risk agriculture, and there are many of us representing these States, many of our current farm programs unfortunately have not worked for our constituents. However, some of them do. In recent years, they have represented a lifeline to our hard-pressed producers who needed a lifeline, and it has been their only lifeline.

In particular, I am talking about direct payments and crop insurance. I will come back to that and come back to that and come back to that. This is why it is vital that as a Federal Government, we craft farm programs that do not merely benefit one region or one crop but that we draft legislation that is national in scope.

So reducing programs that benefit one region to increase programs that benefit another region is a dangerous enterprise. I caution my colleagues against taking this route. If we want a farm bill that represents the entirety of agriculture, we must not play games that pit one sector of agriculture against another…

I know direct payments may seem like an easy target or a bank, for some, but to those in the fields, our farmers, the direct payment program helps them produce the safest, most abundant food supply in the world.

Once again, the standard farm program rationale—I know Chairman Harkin has made these comments, I have made them, everybody connected with the Agriculture Committee and agriculture in general has made these comments—our farm programs are a big reason why we in the United States enjoy a market where we spend only 10 cents of each dollar of our disposable income on food. That is one dime. That frees up 90 cents for the consumer to spend on other things, whether it be housing, health care, education, leisure time activity, whatever. That is the lowest in the history of the world. This speech used to be made by leaders in the House Ag Committee some years ago. Then it was 18 cents, 19, 20. Now it is one dime we spend in regard to food, freeing up 90 cents.

Without farm programs, that consumer would have to rely on market disruptions that happen and the fluctuations that happen, they would be at a big disadvantage, especially those disadvantaged and living in the cities. We need to thank our producers for this. But if you look at this farm bill, you will see that only 14 percent now goes to the commodity title. When Senator Conrad was on the floor earlier this week, he informed us that commodity title payments under this bill represent a mere one-quarter of 1 percent of all Federal outlays. In fact, $6 billion comes out of the commodity title to pay for initiatives in other titles. That $6 billion comes out of the pocketbooks of the folks who provide the food and fiber for a troubled and hungry world for other programs. I am not trying to perjure other programs. They are good programs. But we should not take it out of the hides of farmers and ranchers who desperately need help when they lose a crop.

The conservation title receives an increase of over $4 billion, appropriate, but it is up $4 billion. A plus-up in nutrition program funding is over $5.5 billion which brings total nutrition title spending to two-thirds of the entire bill. I know there are amendments being considered that will take more out of the commodity program, give more to nutrition programs. I suggest that $5.5 billion in additional funding and two-thirds of the entire bill going to nutrition is appropriate. Let’s work through that. Let’s get at the Nation’s problems of obesity and good health and wellness. That is appropriate.

Yet I have no doubt that during the course of this debate, Members will come down to the floor and argue for additional cuts to producers to fund these other programs. I am not saying our conservation and nutrition programs don’t need additional funding. I hope I have made that clear. Quite the contrary. I am here today saying this bill already puts enough of that responsibility on the backs of farmers and ranchers. Let’s not pile anymore on…

Editor’s note: To read the full speech in the Congressional Record, click here.