U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York's first member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, issued the following statement today after the 2012 Farm Bill cleared the Senate for final passage.
"Over the last three years, I've been using my seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee to try to give New Yorkers a voice where they haven't had one in too long. I traveled all across New York State, meeting with our farmers in their own communities, hearing their concerns, and listening to their ideas. And as we've been debating this Farm Bill, those are the farms -- the small businesses -- that I've been fighting for.
"I have worked hard to improve this bill by strengthening our specialty crops, expanding the reach of broadband Internet access into our rural communities, standing by our fishermen as they recover from disaster, and beginning to give dairy farmers a better, more just pricing system.
"But just as important as the health of our agriculture industry -- is the health and nutrition of our children and families. I am deeply disappointed by the $4.5 billion in cuts to food assistance in this bill. The sad fact is that if this bill did not pass we would undoubtedly see even more devastating cuts to New York families. I will keep fighting to bring healthy, nutritious food within reach of America's children so they may reach their God-given potential."
The 2012 Farm Bill includes the following provisions that Senator Gillibrand fought for:
Dairy Pricing Reform Study -- allowing dairy industry groups to present milk pricing reforms to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for consideration in a public hearing setting, and order the Secretary of Agriculture to release the Department's final proposal to Congress.
Disaster Relief Loans for Commercial Fishermen -- expanding existing Emergency Disaster Loan program to include commercial fishermen. Loans may be used to help eligible commercial fishermen, farmers, ranchers, and aquaculture producers who have suffered significant production or physical losses, such as repairing or replacing damaged or destroyed structures or equipment. These loans are discretionary and subject to annual appropriations or done through emergency supplemental appropriations.
Protecting Specialty Crop Producers from Disaster -- ensuring specialty crop farms have an insurance program that works so they can continue to provide fresh, wholesome food to families. For years, crop insurance has met the needs of commodity producers, such as the corn and wheat growers, without equal protection for fruit and vegetable farmers. In the wake of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, New York farms were devastated, and the current insurance system did not meet their needs.
Improving Cold Storage Reporting -- requiring cold storage reporting to the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), and giving the USDA the authority to audit warehouse inventories to help bring more stability to dairy trading prices. In past years, price volatility has been destructive to dairy producers. The NASS inventory reports affect milk prices by influencing cheese markets, on both up and down turns, as market concerns during a global recession result in extremely cautious trades. However, cold storage facilities are currently not required to report their inventories of dairy products to NASS, and only do so on a voluntary basis, creating an environment of volatility and uncertainty for dairy trading.
Strengthening New York's Rural Communities -- increasing access to rural broadband by creating a new grant component to the current Broadband Loan Program. This policy establishes a one-stop-shop in the federal government for private sector providers, state and local governments, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit economic development organizations to acquire funding and resources to deliver high-speed Internet to businesses and families currently cut off from such service. Grants of up to 50 percent of a project's cost, and up to 75 percent for the most remote, disadvantaged of communities, can be awarded in combination with the current loan funding available through USDA's Rural Utilities Service to provide adequate resources to expand broadband access to un-served rural areas.