Senator Roberts Promises Defense of 
Farm Bill

The downturn in the farm economy makes this a terrible time to slash Farm Bill spending as President Donald Trump has proposed, a Republican lawmaker told an audience Friday at the Federal Reserve bank here.

“It is important that the role of government be a partner, not an adversary, to our farmers and ranchers,” said U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Roberts has a leading role in reauthorizing the Farm Bill, the multiyear spending package that includes crop insurance, food stamps, rural development and ag marketing programs — all told, nearly $100 billion a year.

As to cutting crop insurance, Roberts said, “We are not going to do that.” He described crop insurance as farmers’ most valuable tool for managing risk.

And Roberts vowed that this Farm Bill wouldn’t be delayed for years as the last one was, leaving farmers with uncertainty about the details of programs they rely on.

“During these tough times, what is needed is certainty,” Roberts said.

Roberts spoke to agribusiness lenders, farmers and others at the Kansas City Fed’s 2017 Agricultural Symposium, which looked at causes of consolidation in the food and farming industries.

He said the Senate Ag Committee wants to get a Farm Bill written this year, hoping to wrap things up before the drama of the 2018 midterm elections.

Roberts described a “circus” atmosphere in Washington, but said that’s not what farmers are focused on.

In farm country, he said, “Nobody even says the word ‘Trump.’ They talk about the things that directly affect their pocketbook and their futures. And they’re damn tired of the government being an adversary and not a partner.”

One reason a Farm Bill is hard to pass: Fiscal conservatives don’t like how food stamp spending has ballooned, but including it in the Farm Bill is essential to getting urban votes for farm spending, Roberts said.

And as another speaker at the event pointed out, hunger doesn’t end at city limits.

“If you think that hunger is someone else’s problem, go home and take a look at your own community,” said Iowa farmer Pam Johnson. “We must all take ownership, and on a policy level we must learn to build those relationships and coalitions to pass a Farm Bill.”

Trump proposed cutting the food stamp program — by far the biggest part of Farm Bill spending — by more than 25 percent. And he wants cuts in crop insurance and in commodity program payments.

Despite Roberts’ assurances, some farmers are preparing for cuts.

Kip Tom, a large-scale Indiana farmer, said he’s in talks with insurance underwriters about creating a pool of farmers to buy insurance on the private market. That would take them out of the system in which the federal government shares in the costs and risk.

“We’re preparing ourselves for possible cuts and limits in the subsidy,” he said.

Tom said the Heritage Foundation, which criticizes what it calls costly and harmful subsidies, doesn’t understand the role of crop insurance, or that it gives lenders the assurance needed to invest in farms.

Roberts doesn’t expect those who want to cut costs to have the same influence with this Farm Bill as they did with the last, signed in 2014.

It’s one thing to make an ideological argument for cutting ag subsidies when prices were good, he said.

“That’s not the case now,” Roberts said. “We’re in bad shape.”

Source: Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald

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