Displays of bipartisanship are an increasingly rare sight in Washington these days, but when it comes to prioritizing the need for strong farm policies during difficult times, Agriculture Committee leadership appear to be on the same page.
House and Senate Chair and Ranking Members all addressed the annual meeting of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. They all praised farmers for their importance to the U.S. economy. They all stressed the need for strong farm policies and risk management tools. And they all hope to deliver a Farm Bill that works for rural communities across the country.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) was the first to deliver remarks, and said that when it comes to crop insurance, in particular, the message he’s hearing across farm country has been resounding.
“Loud and clear throughout all of the listening sessions,” he explained, was the message to “do no harm” to crop insurance.
“One of the more succinct comments was, ‘Hey Conaway, don’t screw up crop insurance.’ I can pretty much understand clear language like that and we are not going to screw it up,” Conaway said.
With some critics calling for deep cuts to crop insurance, Conaway offered this rebuttal: “The more changes they make, the more restrictive it gets, the fewer policies and fewer people — it just goes into an immediate death spiral and we can’t let that happen.”.
Following Conaway’s remarks, House Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) said that in addition to harmful crop insurance amendments, he expects sugar policy to come under attack.
Peterson, who grows a few acres of sugarbeets himself, is ready for that fight.
“If we could guarantee that everyone in the world sugar market is playing on a level playing field and there is no government help… we wouldn’t need a sugar program,” Peterson said. “We would run our competitors out of business. No question. We are the most efficient. The problem is that every country in the world subsidizes sugar.”
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), also acknowledged there may be policy fights between farmers and farm policy critics along the way. But, he said when it comes time to debate the bill on the floor, everyone ready to work together.
“We are all going to ride as one posse and I will ride point…we gotta saddle up to defeat any harmful amendments to the good work that you do,” Roberts told attendees.
Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) echoed the same concerns about crop insurance as her colleagues and talked about the importance of all components to the farm safety net.
“My feeling is that in general we are the only Committee that took fiscal responsibility seriously. … We are happy to do that, but we also know we need a farm safety net for farmers and farm families,” Stabenow said.
The response from attendees was overwhelmingly positive, with all leaders receiving standing ovations.
“I was encouraged that they all emphasized it is a bipartisan bill,” said Curt Rutherford, a third-generation sugarbeet farmer from California’s Imperial Valley.
“Sugar farmers heard what they have said, and we will be sharing messages about a strong sugar policy, crop insurance and agriculture’s other priorities with lawmakers in Washington and within our communities back home,” Rutherford said. “Getting agriculture’s positive message out is going to be key.”