The farm bill

March 13, 2018 GMT

I happened once to be seated next to a national reporter from back east who was staring out of the plane window at the beautiful vastness of Nebraska. I thought he might be wondering about the peculiar site of large yellow outcroppings. “Do you see those yellow mounds?” I asked. “That’s corn.”

Here in the Cornhusker State, we love football, we cherish our traditions of faith, family, and civic life, and we like getting things done. The heart of the matter is that we are Farm Country. It is the cornerstone of who we are as a people. In Congress, The Farm Bill resides at the intersection of national public policy and this essential Nebraska activity of working the land.

First inaugurated at the height of the Great Depression as The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, The Farm Bill remains the primary legislative vehicle for food and agriculture policy of the U.S. Government. Passed roughly every five years, it deals with all major areas under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), including farm credit, conservation programs, ag research, rural development, foreign ag trade, foreign food aid, biofuels, marketing of American agriculture products, disaster relief, crop insurance and other revenue protection, as well as sizable food and nutrition programs for the poor and needy.

Because of its fairly predictable calendar, The Farm Bill offers opportunities for legislators to seek and receive feedback well in advance of its passage. In that spirit, last month, I surveyed the farmers and other members of the agricultural community of Nebraska’s first district, seeking input. I received hundreds of helpful responses. Not surprisingly, there’s large support for maintaining a strong risk management component in the upcoming Farm Bill through a robust crop insurance program. There is also strong support for preserving and expanding key conservation programs, supporting beginning farmers and ranchers, and limiting farm payments to larger producers.

Many respondents prioritized simplifying farm payment programs such as Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). Expanding acreage caps in conservation programs while increasing monetary benefits to landowners was also cited. Regarding export markets, improving the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) against the backdrop of both expanding foreign trade opportunities and the need to protect domestic commodity producers from unfair foreign competition remains a concern. Of all the issues raised, many farmers and ranchers said they are dramatically affected by high property taxes and the skyrocketing cost of health insurance.

Since the survey, there have been important developments. It looks like we are well positioned to include the new Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, a comprehensive piece of legislation I helped introduce that addresses the critical issues that new and aspiring farmers face in accessing land, building skills, and managing risk and financial security. The average age of today’s farmer is 58-years-old. To bridge this large inter-generational gap, the measure builds upon existing legislation by improving access to affordable farmland, federal crop insurance, and educational programs. It further supports dynamic opportunities for young Americans who want to lead transformational initiatives from agricultural urbanism to farm-to-table movements.

As we speak, one matter that gives me great concern is the incredible stress on farm families, small businesses, and others who are subjected to the disruptive and escalating cost of health care. Though The Farm Bill is remote from this issue, we are exploring new models of risk pool development that will lower cost and increase options for farm communities.

When I was young, I wanted to be a farmer. Life didn’t exactly work out that way. But, the inner farmer in me remains committed to what those tall mounds of corn represent—the hard work and dedication of those who faithfully work the land, Nebraska’s strength.