The Hill: In difficult financial times, we need a farm bill that’s balanced

The Hill
By: Rep. Frank Lucas

With the 2008 farm bill expiring this fall, the House Agriculture Committee is working to develop a more cost-effective law that not only better achieves the goals of a farm bill, but does so with less money. My overall philosophy is quite simple: Give producers the tools to help them do what they do best, which is to produce the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world.

More hinges on the success of a farm bill than people realize. Farm policy ensures that farmers and ranchers, who are credited with driving the nation’s economic recovery, do not go without insurance or stand alone in the face of high foreign subsidies and tariffs. The farm bill helps conserve and improve the quality of soil, water, air, wetlands, wildlife and wildlife habitats, using highly successful market-based incentives rather than the Environmental Protection Agency regulations that stifle economic growth. The farm bill also fosters trade promotion with agriculture, almost single-handedly contributing to our nation’s balance of trade. The farm bill looks after the nutrition of needy families. Healthy forests, cutting-edge research and rural community infrastructure, including water and waste facilities and critical medical treatment in rural areas, are met by a farm bill.
That being said, we also know that this country continues to face a fiscal crisis that, if not addressed, will not only harm the agricultural sector and rural America but the country as a whole. To that end, I worked with my ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), and our counterparts in the Senate, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), to provide the certainty of a five-year farm bill while saving taxpayers $23 billion. As far as I know, we were the only committee to offer cuts in a bipartisan, bicameral way. Although our combined effort was ultimately cut short by the failure of the supercommittee process, we did establish a valuable blueprint for moving forward this year.

And, we will move forward. The committee recently released a schedule of farm bill field hearings starting this month. These hearings will be followed by another series in Washington. These hearings will round out the 11 farm bill audit hearings we held last year to examine various policies under the House Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction, including those relating to nutrition, commodities, conservation, crop insurance, trade promotion, rural development, credit, research, forestry and energy. These audits built on the eight farm bill field hearings that Peterson, then chairman, held in 2010. Combined, these efforts have helped to establish the framework with which the committee will make decisions on how to prioritize, consolidate or eliminate programs.

As for policy, I believe the federal crop insurance program is the backbone of the safety net we provide producers. At one point last year, more than 25 percent of the continental United States — including my home state of Oklahoma — was experiencing a severe drought, while many other areas of the country were suffering devastating floods. While improvements to crop insurance can and will be made, these events are clearly beyond the control of producers, and helping them manage risk in a fiscally responsible manner is critical.

Beyond weather and yield risk, it is vital to provide producers protection if and when prices fall. As I have stated before, my goal is to have commodity programs that work for all producers in all regions of the country, not just a select few. With the incredibly diverse nature of production agriculture, it is incumbent on the committee to give producers a choice in how best to manage their risk. Washington telling our producers what is best for them would be Washington arrogance at its worst.

The agriculture community stands willing to do its part in addressing the burgeoning federal debt, but deficit reduction cannot be shouldered by America’s farmers and ranchers alone. Every title and policy area will be examined to ensure greater efficiencies, avoid duplication and streamline programs where necessary. I look forward to continued hearings and input from members of Congress to achieve the most fiscally responsible farm bill that best serves the farmers and ranchers of this great country.

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