Good morning, and thank you all for joining us today for our first Farm Bill field hearing of 2012.
Field hearings are one of the most important parts of the farm bill process. Not only do they allow Members of our Committee to hear directly from farmers and ranchers, but they give us a chance to see the diversity of agriculture across this great country.
These field hearings are a continuation of what my good friend and Ranking Member Collin Peterson started in the spring of 2010. Today, we'll build upon the information we gathered in those hearings, as well as the 11 farm policy audits we conducted this past summer.
We used those audits as an opportunity to thoroughly evaluate farm programs to identify areas where we could improve efficiency.
The field hearings serve a slightly different purpose. Today, we're here to listen.
I talk to producers all the time back in Oklahoma. I see them in the feed store and I meet them at my town hall meetings. And of course, I get regular updates from my boss back on our ranch. But the conditions and crops in Oklahoma are different than what you'll find in New York or Illinois or California.
That's why we hold field hearings--to meet farmers and ranchers from different regions who produce a broad range of products. New York is a fitting place to kick off these hearings because of the variety of food produced here. New York farmers produce a wide range of specialty crops that generate $1.34 billion annually and make up one-third of the state's total agriculture receipts. New York ranks second in apple production, third for wine and grape juice production, and is among the top vegetable producing states in the country. New York is also among the nation's top dairy producers. I am pleased we will hear from representatives of each of these commodities this morning.
While each sector has unique concerns when it comes to farm policy, I'd like to share some of my general goals for the next Farm Bill.
First and foremost, I want to give producers the tools to help you do what you do best, and that is to produce the safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply in the world.
To do this we must develop a farm bill that works for all regions and all commodities. We have repeatedly heard that a one size fits all program will not work. The Commodity Title must give producers options so that they can choose the program that works best for them.
I also am committed to providing a strong crop insurance program. The Committee has heard loud and clear about the importance of crop insurance and we believe it is the cornerstone of the safety net. Today, we hope to hear how we can improve crop insurance, especially for specialty crops.
Lastly, we'll work to ensure that producers can continue using conservation programs to protect our natural resources. I'm interested to hear how producers in this area of the country use the conservation programs. I'm particularly curious as to your thoughts on how to simplify that process so they are easier for our farmers and ranchers to use. Beyond those priorities, I know there are a number of universal concerns facing agriculture across the country.
For instance, my producers in Oklahoma are worried about regulations coming down from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and how they must comply with those regulations. I'm also aware that the death tax is creating difficulties for farming operations. I want to hear how these federal policies are affecting producers in the Northeast.
But the main focus of our hearing will be how the Farm Bill affects specialty crops and dairy producers. While specialty crops do not participate in traditional commodity programs, there are other federal programs that play an important role in helping American fruit, vegetable and nursery crop growers stay competitive.
These programs give specialty crop growers access to vital research programs and help protect their crops from pest and disease. Additionally, they provide assistance in maintaining and opening international markets and increase consumption of the best fruits and vegetables in the world. I look forward to hearing your perspective on these programs.
For dairy producers, the ongoing discussion of dairy reform is of particular importance. The recent decline in prices coupled with rising production has once again demonstrated the need to improve and modernize our dairy safety net. While I do not expect unanimity among dairy industry participants, I do encourage all industry participants--producers and processors alike--to find some level of consensus regarding the type of reform that is needed. The exact nature of the reform we include in the next farm bill will rely heavily on the input we receive today and in future hearings.
While there are several proposals that have been introduced, and we have had some level of agreement on a starting point for discussion, we do not claim to have all of the answers. With your help and guidance, we would hope to develop a comprehensive package of reforms which are fiscally responsible and balanced with regards to size and region.
Today, we'll be hearing from a selection of producers. Unfortunately, we just don't have time to hear from everybody who would like to share their perspective. But we have a place on our website where you can submit those comments in writing. You can visit agriculture.house.gov -slash- farmbill to find that place. You can also find that address on the postcards available on the table here.
As I said before, we don't have an easy road ahead of us. But I'm confident that by working together, we can craft a Farm Bill that continues to support the success story that is American agriculture.