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Weekly Column

April 30, 2012

A Positive Step Forward on the Farm Bill

Last week, the Senate took a very positive step toward improving federal farm policy. An update of the farm bill passed overwhelmingly out of the Agriculture Committee, enjoying strong support from both Democrats and Republicans. This bill is an improvement for American agriculture: it's simple, it's straightforward, and it's more market-oriented. Better yet, it's fiscally responsible and will help to cut our country's troubling budget deficit.

Certainly the most pressing issue of our time remains our mounting debt, and the farm bill was drafted with this in mind. The bill saves more than $23 billion in farm and nutrition programs, while helping producers manage their risk and ensuring we continue to address hunger. Having a committee come together in a bipartisan way to cut spending in a responsible manner is a breath of fresh air.

I've met with many of you over the past year, often times at my Ag Policy Perspectives events, to discuss the new farm bill. Your thoughts and ideas are reflected in the legislation we crafted in the Agriculture Committee. The crop insurance program has been effective and popular, and it will continue to be a central risk management tool for farmers and ranchers. There has also been broad acknowledgement that direct payments must be made a thing of the past, and this farm bill steers us in that direction. The Adjusted Gross Income cap has also been reduced, further targeting government farm supports to producers who need it most.

I am pleased to report that several of my ideas and amendments are included in the bill. I've long been an advocate for policies which support beginning farmers and ranchers as well as returning veterans looking to start careers in farming. These proposals were roundly supported and included in the bill. It is critical that our federal farm policy keeps in mind the future generations of ag producers.

Another area I was glad the committee spent time discussing was trade. The bill also includes an amendment of mine to ensure USDA continues to prioritize trade. The recently enacted trade agreements with Korea and Colombia shouldn't be stopping points. We must keep working to level the playing field for our producers by lowering trade barriers around the globe. Having served previously as Agriculture Secretary, it's my opinion that trade policies at USDA can be better focused and coordinated, and my amendment will have the department evaluate improvements.

The farm bill is by no means perfect, but it is a positive turning point for American farm policy. It will benefit farmers and ranchers, it will benefit the American people, and it helps get our country back on a fiscally sustainable path. I was pleased to support it and look forward to its consideration in the full Senate.

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