Senator Mike Johanns
Last Friday, President Obama signed the farm bill into law, updating comprehensive agriculture and nutrition policy and finally closing the book on long, often challenging negotiations in Congress.
The final law was the product of many compromises, which means nobody got everything on their wish list, but I think it is safe to say that this farm bill marks a victory for our state’s farmers, ranchers and consumers.
There are some important reforms in this law. It saves billions of dollars, in part by eliminating direct payments, which have been paid to farmers every year regardless of need. Instead of supplementing farm income, the emphasis going forward is helping our farmers manage risks—primarily through the public-private crop insurance program.
The farm bill strengthens the crop insurance program—something that has garnered support from producers across the state. This risk management-based system uses funds from producers to help build a backstop for unexpected weather or market changes. Farmers put skin in the game, with the support of USDA and private crop insurance companies and agents, to ensure that devastating, widespread events like the 2012 drought don’t bankrupt thousands of producers who work hard every day to grow our food.
Farmers aren’t the only ones who experience the wrath of Mother Nature. In the last two years, livestock producers in Nebraska have had to face extreme drought and devastating blizzards without needed disaster assistance because the programs had expired. This new law reinstates those programs, and applies them retroactively for those producers who suffered losses in the interim.
Of course, there’s a lot more to a farm bill than the farm programs. As Secretary of Agriculture, I proposed streamlining and consolidating conservation programs. This farm bill accomplishes that, reducing 27 programs into 13. It also takes steps to expand basic agriculture research—another one of my priorities as Ag Secretary and as your Senator. And it makes positive strides toward reforming important nutrition programs by closing loopholes and tackling fraud.
Still, there are some areas where I believe greater reform is possible. The bill retained 1980s-style target price programs that could have distorting effects on the market. It also fails to go far enough regarding payment limits and requiring farmers to be actively engaged. EPA’s overreach on fuel storage and double regulation of pesticides remains unresolved, and the bill doesn’t fix burdensome labeling requirements that led to a trade dispute with some of our largest trading partners.
All in all, this bill is a positive step for Nebraska agriculture and a better alternative to yet another extension of outdated ag policy. It also is a good example of how Congress can overcome differences to pass meaningful legislation. In Nebraska, where our state’s economy depends on our ag producers, fresh farm policy is imperative. I am pleased Congress delivered the tools and certainty our producers need to thrive.