REFORMING AMERICA'S FARM POLICY
Just last week the House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Conference Report on the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, commonly referred to as the farm bill. As the lead House Republican negotiator on the farm bill conference, I was pleased to lead the charge in reforming various aspects of federal farm policy and help craft the most reform-minded farm bill in the history of the Congress.
The conference agreement contains many good provisions for Virginia's Sixth Congressional District including strong conservation programs, provisions for the specialty crop industry, increased funding for food banks as well as significant reforms to strengthen the integrity of the farm bill while maintaining a safety net for the production of American agriculture.
Specifically, the 2008 Farm Bill includes critical funding for conservation of the Chesapeake Bay and directs the Secretary of Agriculture to develop a comprehensive plan for restoring, preserving, and protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The legislation also includes funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides food to states for distribution to needy families. Most of the food distribution is accomplished through food banks and soup kitchens. This important program provides food and nutrition services to those who need it by providing basic food items like canned meats, vegetables and fruits to food banks for distribution through their network of volunteer organizations like churches and civic groups.
Additionally, the 2008 Farm Bill includes a two-year extension of the conservation easement tax incentive which helps private landowners keep agricultural lands in productive use, protecting important fish and wildlife habitats, and conserving our scenic and historic heritage across America. It also establishes a new program, the Emergency Forest Restoration Program, to assist private forest owners with restoration following disasters such as Gypsy Moth infestations, hurricanes and wildfires.
The conference committee made great strides in reforming farm programs to reduce benefits from going to the wealthiest farmers and non-farmers, modify beneficial interest to prevent farmers from taking advantage of windfalls from the government in times of market disruption, modernize the dairy program, and strengthen the integrity of the crop insurance program as well as other significant reforms.
These important reforms resulted in the conference report on the farm bill costing $4 billion less than the House-passed farm bill and $5 billion less than the Senate-passed farm bill. It is historic and unprecedented that a conference report comes back costing less than the bills passed by the House and Senate.
I am proud of the work the conference committee did in putting together a fiscally responsible, reform-minded farm bill that addresses a variety of issues such as conservation and rural development, nutrition, forestry, and alternative sources of energy, while maintaining a safety net for American agricultural production. The 2008 Farm Bill will help ensure that Agriculture remains a vital part of the American economy.