Farm Bill Statement from the Senate Agriculture Committee Chair

January 30, 2010

Opening Statement of the Honorable Blanche L. Lincoln, Chairman
Hearing on Expanding Our Food and Fiber Supply through a Strong U.S. Farm Policy

June 30, 2010

“Good morning, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will now come to order.

“This is the first in a series of hearings to help this Committee prepare for the next farm bill. We will be taking an inventory of what we have and ensuring that it is working properly, but doing so with our eye on the future of farm policy.

“I want to thank my very good friend, Senator Chambliss, for helping me organize this hearing; for being a great partner on this Committee; and for being a steadfast advocate for our nation’s farmers and ranchers. America’s producers are blessed to have such a great friend in their corner.

“I also want to thank my other distinguished colleagues for their attendance today and for all the work that they do on behalf of rural America. This has always been a bipartisan Committee where we put problem-solving and people above partisan politics.

“We are privileged to have some excellent witnesses today. I very much appreciate Secretary Vilsack, Dow Brantley from my home State of Arkansas, and all of our witnesses for being here to offer their unique perspectives. I look forward to hearing from each of you.

“I am honored to be the first Arkansan to serve as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Agriculture provides a job for 1 out of every 4 Arkansans… and contributes more than $15 billion each year to my state’s economy.

“I expect that each and every one of my colleagues around this table has a similar story to tell about the importance of agriculture to their State’s economy and jobs, both on and off of the farm.

“Of course, the farm bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation that Congress considers on behalf of rural America and our nation’s farmers and ranchers.

“In the 2008 Farm Bill, we made some significant new investments in nutrition, energy, conservation, rural development and other priorities while maintaining the integrity of the farm safety net.

“In the next Congress, we will be writing the 2012 farm bill. In this process, we will have the opportunity to build on the good things that we have accomplished.

“This first hearing will focus on how well the current safety net is working for our nation’s farmers and ranchers. As we begin our discussion, I want to share five points that will guide me when deliberating the next Farm Bill.

“First, I am proud of our farmers and ranchers. They work hard. They put food on our table, clothes on our back, and fuel in our cars and trucks. But, today, our farmers and ranchers not only have to cope with unpredictable weather and unfair global markets, but they must also suffer from abuse on TV and in the newspapers from folks who really ought to know better than to bite the hand that feeds them. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers need to know that they will never have to apologize to this Chairman or this Committee. We appreciate the work you do every day and we are on your side.

“Second, these Farm Bill deliberations should not be a Washington command-and-control, top-to-bottom approach to policy. President Reagan used to say that ordinary people see things that work in principle and wonder if they work in practice, but economists see things that work in practice and wonder if they work in principle. In the same way, we in Washington may know what policies work in principle. But, it is our farmers and ranchers who know what works on the ground. The good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth. So, it is important that we use them in that proportion. And, it is also vitally important that the safety net features of the 2012 Farm Bill come from the kitchen tables of places like Stuttgart, Arkansas and Cando, North Dakota rather than tables like this one.

“Third, we need to look before we leap. More than anything else, I think most American farm and ranch families simply want steady, predictable, supportive policies coming out of Washington… and for us to otherwise get out of their way. Huge policy fluctuations, mixed signals coming out of Washington, and the uncertainty that these things create make it very difficult for our producers to compete, invest, and plan for the future. So, rather than start from scratch or from some new fangled idea cooked up in Washington or in some college professor’s office, we need to reassure our farmers and ranchers that we will start where we left off: the 2008 Farm Bill. If we can do better by our producers in 2012, great. But, if not, current law serves as the benchmark from which we will work.

“Fourth, we need to get more creative. The safety net provided under the 2008 Farm Bill is not perfect. It can and should be strengthened. But Congress does not even have to wait for 2012 for that to happen. In fact, Congress does not even have to act. For instance, back in 2000, Congress provided USDA with very broad authority to develop and approve new tools to help producers of all crops and from all regions better manage price, production, and revenue risks. We need to use this and other authorities to their absolute fullest. For example, if we could get every farmer in this country to 85% revenue insurance that is affordable, we would go a long way in filling the holes of the current safety net. I know my rice farmers are working toward this goal and I suspect farmers from other States are doing the same thing. Let’s make it happen.

“Finally, I was reading an article the other day about the OECD and rethinking its objective to move away from promoting policies that discourage food and fiber production toward policies that help us meet the needs of a planet that will one day in the not too distant future host 9 billion people. I believe that this consideration needs to be our overarching objective as well. Too often, it takes a crisis to remind us of the essentials in life, basic as they may be. But I do not believe it is wise for us to wait for a crisis to value our domestic food and fiber production.

“Mike Rowe, the host of the popular TV program, “Dirty Jobs,” had this to say about the importance of production agriculture: “All jobs rely on one of two industries—mining and agriculture. Every tangible thing our society needs is either pulled from the ground, or grown from the ground. Without these fundamental industries there would be no jobs of any kind. There would be no economy. Civilization begins with miners and farmers, and polite society is only possible when skilled workers transform those raw materials into something useful or edible.”

“It is from this perspective that I will approach the 2012 farm bill.

“Again, I look forward to hearing from Secretary Vilsack and all of our distinguished witnesses, and I now yield to my good friend, Senator Chambliss, for any opening remarks he may have.”