Our country has many challenges to face – chief among them of course remains our debt and spending, but another issue stands out on my schedule for the upcoming months. As the Senate gears up for some potentially big agriculture decisions this year, my schedule is filling up with meeting requests all across the state to talk about agriculture. Agriculture will always be fundamental to our state, and I look forward to helping shape the future of ag policy – including a possible farm bill this year – in the months ahead.
I spent a lot of time in Nebraska last year hosting open coffees and ag forums, or what we called "Ag Policy Perspectives." The experience and wisdom offered by the many farmers and ranchers who attended was invaluable. Folks from our state have such a unique perspective to offer, and I cherish every opportunity to listen to them. During and even before my time as Secretary of Agriculture, these farmers and ranchers helped me greatly in my service to our state and American agriculture. From these meetings several things have become clear about the future of agriculture.
First, crop insurance has grown to become a cornerstone of farm policy. Farmers pay premiums, so they have skin in the game; the federal government provides support. Importantly, crop insurance is tied to losses, so you don't simply get a payment just because you farm. As we face budget challenges, crop insurance has paid a fair share: $12 billion has been cut from the crop insurance program since 2008. Given its importance in helping farmers and ranchers manage their risks, I will keep working to ensure crop insurance maintains its effectiveness.
Another popular issue I hear about is conservation programs. No one takes better care of our environment than those whose livelihoods depend upon it, and our farmers and ranchers have utilized the various conservation programs to help them care for the land. Though I expect programs to be streamlined for greater efficiency, I am confident conservation will continue to be part of farm policy for years to come.
Something that always strikes me in my meetings with Nebraskans is how significantly other policy areas – trade, energy, government regulations, and taxes – concern farm families. The world is growing increasingly interconnected, and that's true of agriculture, too. Our policies must responsibly acknowledge this reality, and I will continue to keep this in mind in the months ahead.
I'm optimistic about the future of our agriculture in our country, and am especially eager to continue working with the next generation of America's farmers and ranchers. In fact, with FFA week approaching, I recently urged the Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee to expand the committee's outreach to rural youth. I'm always encouraged to see young faces at my ag events and look forward to meeting more at open coffees throughout the state later this month. My special thanks to the farmers and ranchers who have offered tremendous insight to me over the years. Your wisdom has helped to shape my perspective and I look forward to hearing more from you as we continue to help shape the future of farm policy.