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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Madam President, I rise today to speak on S. 3240, the legislation to reauthorize the farm bill. As a former chairman and former ranking member of the Agriculture Committee in the Senate, I recognize how difficult it is to combine all of the diverse interests into legislation that meets the needs of all crops, regions, and rural and urban communities that the farm bill impacts. This bill before us is no exception. I am disappointed that at this time I am not able to support this bill because of its current form.

I wish to take a moment to commend the chairman and the ranking member for their efforts in putting a farm bill together in the very difficult budget time we are in. We all understand that agriculture has to pay its fair share of deficit reduction. Frankly, for what it is worth, it is going to be at the lead of the pack when it comes to participating in deficit reduction. We are one of the first agencies out of the box to make a commitment to do so.

That being said, it is my hope that at the end of the day, I will be able to support this bill as we complete the legislative process. However, as of today, the bill is filled with inequities and is unbalanced. Contrary to statements made on this floor over the last several days, the bill under consideration seeks to place a one-size-fits-all policy on every region of the country. It works for some regions, but it does not work for other regions. Because the distribution of benefits is skewed to one particular region, it fails the basic test of fairness that we all seek in legislation that moves through this Chamber.

I believe the farm bill needs to provide an effective safety net for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities in times of deep and sustained price decline. It should also responsibly provide nutrition assistance to those in need in all parts of the country, urban and rural alike.

The farm bill initially, and remains, focused on farmers and ranchers, helping them manage a combination of challenges, much out of their own individual control, such as unpredictable weather, variable input costs, and market volatility. All combined determine profit or loss in any given year. The 2008 farm bill continues today to provide a strong safety net for producers, and any follow-on legislation must adhere to and honor the same commitment we made to our farmers and ranchers across America 4 years ago.

At the same time, I believe the agriculture sector can contribute to deficit reduction, and the bill before us provides savings and mandatory spending programs. The key, though, is to do this in an equitable and fair manner throughout all titles and areas of the bill. The nutrition benefits in this bill, which are already inflated by the President's failed stimulus package, are reduced by only one-half of 1 percent, while the commodity title is cut by roughly 15 percent. By this account, it is clear that the Agriculture Committee carefully determined how best to contribute to deficit reduction to ensure an undue burden was not placed on those truly in need.

This farm bill will be my fourth as a Member of Congress, and each has had its own unique challenges and opportunities. Balancing the needs and interests of all agriculture requires patience and an open ear. It is very important that we recognize the unique differences between commodities as well as different parts of the country.

As agricultural markets become more complex, we must be mindful that a one-size-fits-all program no longer works for U.S. agriculture. Regions are much more diverse than they ever were, and we need to recognize this diversity by providing producers with different options that best match their cropping and growing decisions.

My greatest concern with this bill is that the commodity title redistributes resources from one region to another not based on market forces or cropping decisions, but based on how the underlying program--the Agriculture Risk Coverage Program--was designed.

After deducting a share for deficit reduction, certain commodities receive more resources than others, and crops such as peanuts and rice are left without any safety net whatsoever.
There are many reports illustrating the lopsidedness of this bill. Among the biggest losers in budget baseline are wheat, barley, grain, grain sorghum, rice, cotton, and peanuts. We should not convince ourselves that this is not going to have an enormous negative consequence for many regions of the country. Put simply, by making the bill too rich for a few at the expense of many it lacks balance.

Some will say planting shifts are responsible for much of the change in the budget baseline, and that is partly true. But it does not take away the injury that would be inflicted on regions of the country nor does it tell the whole story.

By squeezing all crops into a program specially designed for one or two crops, this bill will force many growers to switch to those crops in order to have an effective safety net. This is the very planting distortion caused by farm policy that we seek to avoid in any farm bill.

But there is another very serious problem with this bill: It is not going to be there when farmers really need it. Whether offered on an on-farm or area-wide basis, offering farmers a narrow 10-percent band of revenue protection will not provide a safety net if crop prices collapse--and we know they will. Under this bill, a farmer has an 11-percent deductible, then the next 10 percent of losses is covered, but then farmers are left totally exposed to a plunge in crop prices all the way down to the loan rate. If that happens, Congress will be asked to pass ad hoc disaster programs again. We should seek to avoid such disaster packages, and farm bills give us the opportunity to do that, not create ad hoc disaster opportunities. Crop insurance can cover the production side of the risk if you can afford to buy higher coverage, but it does not cover year-on-year low prices. Even the 10-percent revenue band the bill does cover has problems. Because the revenue guarantee is based on the previous 5 years' price and production, the guarantee is only as good as those previous 5 years. If they were bad or they become bad, the guarantee is also bad. This is not an effective safety net.

Just last week, my staff and I traveled throughout south Georgia, and we witnessed crop damages and in some cases total losses of crops which were the result of a hailstorm that occurred across a 40-mile stretch of Georgia. It is estimated that well over 10,000 acres have been damaged or totally lost. I do not see how a small band of revenue protection, provided for in this bill, that is limited to $50,000, is helpful to some farmers who lost over $1 million in one field. The ARC proposal in this bill is simply not an effective safety net.

Members have come to the floor championing the commodity and crop insurance programs included in the bill, as well as stating that we were solving the problem with commodity programs by eliminating direct payments. I have seen quotes in the press criticizing southern commodities, stating we are too closely tied to direct payments.

Well, let me be very clear. I have never been a fan of direct payments, and back in 1996, as a Member of the House, I supported a much different proposal. Let me also state clearly that from my point of view, direct payments were always difficult to defend and we needed to find a different way to provide a safety net, while doing it in a fiscally responsible way. Southern growers have not asked for direct payments at any time during the current discussions. My criticism stems entirely from the fact that this farm bill shoehorns all producers into a one-size-fits-all policy. Producer choice based on a producer's inherent risk is the better course to follow.

The University of Georgia's National Center for Peanut Competitiveness evaluated the ARC Program, which is the fundamental safety net that is provided for in this farm bill, and they determined that it is of little utility to peanut producers. The center has a database of 22 representative farms spread throughout Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. Based on the analysis provided, this farm bill does not provide the same level of protection as for midwestern growers who will be growing corn and soybeans. That is a fact.

I want to work with the chair and ranking member with respect to trying to make the bill more balanced and more equitable, but, frankly, all of our offers to this point in time have been rejected. Peanut producers have offered no proposal that includes direct payments, yet they are labeled as ``unwilling to change from the status quo.'' The ARC Program is not new; it is a derivative of a program in the 2008 farm bill that experienced low participation. In fact, when producers had a choice, they chose something other than this type of program.

In spite of all this, I should point out that this bill includes a new program for cotton that complies with our international commitments and will show our trading partners that we will abide by our international agreements.

As chairman and ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, I committed to finding a solution to the WTO Brazil case. I authored legislation in 2005 and again in 2008 that made significant changes in the cotton and export programs to bring us into compliance with our international commitments. We eliminated the Step 2 program, we reformed the cotton marketing loan program, and reduced the cotton countercyclical program unilaterally and in good faith.

We find ourselves again reforming the cotton safety net with what is called the Stacked Income Protection Plan for users of upland cotton, or the STAX program. The program in this bill is a significant departure from what is available to other covered commodities and puts us down the path of resolving the WTO dispute with Brazil. My hope now is that our Brazilian friends engage in a real and meaningful way and we can put this issue behind us.

At the end of the day, let's remember, the reason we are here is to represent the hard-working men and women who work the land each day to provide the highest quality of agricultural products in the world. I believe we have the opportunity to pass a bill that can be equal to their commitment in providing food, feed, and fiber that allow us to continue to be the greatest producer on the Earth.

Right now, this bill lacks the commitment and strength of those it was designed to support. I do not intend to impede the movement of the farm bill that, if repaired through an open amendment process--of which we have been assured at this point--has the potential of providing for all of America.

Farm bills are complex. They always consume a lot of floor time. But the farm policy is also very important. I look forward to the forthcoming debate over the next several days and weeks and, at the end of the day, to hopefully having a true, meaningful, and balanced farm bill that will provide producers an equitable opportunity of a safety net and at the same time continue to provide the world with the safest, most productive, and highest quality agricultural products there are today.

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