Getting a farm bill to the finish line by the end of the year is the goal of the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, said when President Donald Trump changed his stance and signaled his support for retaining crop insurance it was an important breakthrough because crop insurance has bipartisan support in the agriculture committee. Roberts said crop insurance is a vital risk- management tool for grain producers particularly when grain prices are low. Roberts offered his comments on the farm bill while attending an Update from Washington on Aug. 15 sponsored by the Dodge City Area Chamber of Commerce.
When Trump presented his budget earlier in the year he called for a significant cut in crop insurance, but he has softened his view after receiving input from farm state lawmakers as well as producers.
Field hearings are underway by the Senate and testimony received will help guide lawmakers. Eight hearings have been conducted and three more are scheduled. Roberts noted the hearings show the diversity of agriculture production.
The committee has heard how cotton and dairy farmers need to have access to programs to help in a period of prolonged lower dairy prices.
Trump also needs to have five undersecretaries confirmed and Roberts said those positions are essential to helping Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and for keeping the farm bill process on track. Senate leadership has signaled it will support consideration of the farm bill before the end of the year or early 2018 if the committee is ready.
The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, 2018. The House Agriculture Committee is also in the process of conducting field hearings.
The president has also adjusted his stance on trade to recognize the importance of farm exports, and Roberts applauded the president’s willingness to listen.
Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement does allow for an opportunity for the United States as well as Canada and Mexico to review what has worked well and what has not. For the most part, the agreement has benefited U.S. farmers, ranchers and growers, he said.
People tend to focus on Mexico but Canada is a key part of the equation, too. The ability for farmers to prosper requires access to markets to those countries and Europe and the Pacific Rim, he said.
“We have to be able to export our products,” Roberts said.
Russia exports more wheat than the U.S., and Brazil exports more soybeans than the U.S., he said, which should not happen.
“We don’t need to repeat the history of the 1980s,” he said, which was a prolonged period of low grain prices caused the farm crisis throughout the country.
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