MANHATTAN, Kan. — Continuing his commitment to put the concerns of farmers and ranchers first, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today held the first hearing on the 2018 Farm Bill in Manhattan, Kan., at Kansas State University. The hearing is titled, “Hearing from the Heartland: Perspectives on the 2018 Farm Bill from Kansas.”
“We start the journey to a successful and timely 2018 Farm Bill in the Heartland, because that is where it matters most…on our farms, ranches, businesses, and city and county halls across the countryside,” Roberts said. “Producers, agribusinesses, and our rural communities are the ones who sign up for programs, comply with regulations, and feel the pain first-hand of over-burdensome or under-supportive policies.
“So it is only right that we start this conversation here, with you. No one understands the impacts of Farm Bills or policies set in Washington like America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. Your experience – your story – is what we need to hear before we start writing a new Farm Bill.”
Chairman Roberts welcomed the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Ranking Member, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., back to Kansas.
The Committee also heard testimony and was welcomed by U.S. Representative Roger Marshall of Kansas’ Big First District, a member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, as well as Kansas Secretary of Agriculture, Dr. Jackie McClaskey, and President of Kansas State University and Retired U.S. Air Force General, Richard Myers.
Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow heard from two panels of witnesses representing agriculture and other stakeholders in rural communities.
The following is Chairman Roberts’ opening statement as prepared for delivery:
Good afternoon. I call this hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order. I’m privileged to convene this committee as chairman here in Manhattan, where I’ve spent many years learning…as a student I learned about journalism, and as a public servant, I continue to learn about how important agriculture is to our nation’s economy and national security.
Kansas State University exemplifies higher education…especially when it comes to preparing young people for lives in agriculture, from conducting fundamental, practical research and extension to advance production, to providing critical policy analysis and development to address our challenges. I am humbled and honored to be your chairman and to kick off the 2018 Farm Bill right here, right now, at home.
(First panel introductions)
Senator Stabenow, ladies and gentlemen on the panel, others here in McCain Auditorium, and those watching across the country, welcome to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s first hearing on the 2018 Farm Bill.
We start the journey to a successful and timely 2018 Farm Bill in the Heartland, because that is where it matters most…on our farms, ranches, businesses, and city and county halls across the countryside. Producers, agribusinesses, and our rural communities are the ones who sign up for programs, comply with regulations, and feel the pain first-hand of over-burdensome or under-supportive policies.
So it is only right that we start this conversation here, with you. No one understands the impacts of Farm Bills or policies set in Washington like America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. Your experience – your story – is what we need to hear before we start writing a new Farm Bill.
And what a success story you have to tell. America’s producers…the folks that Paul Harvey spoke about in his famed “So God Made a Farmer” speech…have overcome drought, disease, floods, tornadoes, embargoes, and even their own government, to produce the safest, most abundant, and affordable food and fiber supply the world has ever known.
Your fight and perseverance yield results. According the most recent Census of Agriculture, your hard work resulted in over $394 billion worth of ag products sold. In Kansas that value is over $18 billion.
More specifically to the Sunflower state, Kansans planted 23.2 million acres to crops in 2016. Livestock in Kansas includes 6.25 million cattle, 1.9 million hogs, and over 140,000 dairy cows.
Our agriculture industry throughout the value chain must grow. Technology must advance to better service this growth. Critical to that growth is stability and an adequate safety net. That is why we need a good Farm Bill.
This Farm Bill journey will not be like the last one. The agriculture sector enjoyed high prices during the last debate. Now, we face multiple years of low prices, across the board.
I’m working to make Washington understand the differences between the economic conditions then and what you’re facing now. You all understand it…Washington needs to as well.
To those who say passing a Farm Bill in this environment is a daunting task, I say together we can get it done. We must embrace the attitude of our producers…optimism and ingenuity. A farmer doesn’t plant the seed without the faith and optimism of harvesting a good crop.
But passing a new bill won’t be easy. That’s why your help in crafting a bill that meets the needs of producers across all regions and all crops is absolutely necessary. Note that I said all regions and all crops. All of ag is struggling, not just one or two commodities. We must write a bill that works across the countryside.
At the same time our government is spending money it doesn’t have. Our national debt exceeds $19 trillion.
Agriculture, and specifically the Farm Bill, has consistently answered the call to do more with less. The last Farm Bill voluntarily cut spending. The previous crop insurance contract with USDA cut $6 billion from the program. I could go on and on where ag gave at the store. Farmers and ranchers pull themselves up from their bootstraps; they understand fiscal responsibility.
Therefore we must be judicious with the scarce resources we have. We must ensure programs accomplish their fundamental purposes. We must ask tough questions and reexamine programs to determine their effectiveness.
Are our conservation programs keeping farm land in operation, or are they merely used to comply with over-burdensome regulations? Are rural development programs helping to increase economic opportunities in farm country, or are they being used to build out infrastructure in urban areas?
Now is the time to examine the core mission of USDA programs to ensure they are operating as intended. And if they are not, then we must refocus them.
We need bold thinking and new ideas to address today’s challenges during tough economic times.
Let us not forget that in a few short decades, the global population will top 9 billion people. Agriculture production will need to double in the near future to meet demand. Accomplishing this task requires efficiency, not just on the farm and ranch, but also in the government.
Feeding an increasing global population is not simply an agriculture challenge, it is a national security challenge. Show me a country that cannot feed itself, and I’ll show you a nation in chaos.
This means we need to grow more and raise more with fewer resources. That will take research, new technology, lines of credit, and proper risk management. It takes the government providing an adequate safety net and then getting out of the producer’s way.
So that is why we are here today. To hear from the entire value chain of agriculture on what is working, what is not, and how we can improve.
Thank you to our witnesses for taking time to provide your advice, counsel, and perspective. Thank you to those in the audience for being here.
For those who want to provide advice and counsel on the Farm Bill, we have set up an email address on the Senate Ag Committee’s website to collect your input into the Farm Bill discussion.
Please go to ag.senate.gov and click on the Farm Bill Hearing box on the left side of the screen. You can send us your own input for the committee to consider as we write the next Farm Bill. That link will be open for five business days following today’s hearing.
— U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry
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