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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act Of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HARKIN. Madam President, this amendment is a solution in search of a problem. I don't know--have any of my colleagues here had unionized businesses come to them complaining that they can't give a raise? Have any of my colleagues ever heard of that--they have complained they can't give a raise?

The fact is collective bargaining agreements already provide--many of them--for merit-based performance increases. That is part and parcel of a lot of the agreements today. So what this amendment basically does is it undercuts the National Labor Relations Act. That is exactly what it does. If you think we should do away with the National Labor Relations Act and all the benefits and all the protections it has both for businesses and for workers, this is your amendment right here. Quite frankly, I can't think of anything that would be more disruptive of a workplace than this amendment. When a business and workers have agreed on a collective bargaining agreement, this would destroy that kind of comity in the workplace.

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Mr. HARKIN. Madam President, as is evident from the amount of debate and attention devoted to it, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 is an enormously important piece of legislation for our Nation, as it certainly is for my State of Iowa. Although the measure is commonly referred to as the farm bill, that name captures just a fraction of what it contains to benefit all Americans and millions of others around the world.

Despite the severe economic challenges over the past half decade, agriculture and agriculture-related jobs and economic activity have been a real source of hope, opportunity, and recovery. That is especially so in my State, where agriculture generates about one of every five Iowa jobs and about a fourth of our State's economic output.

Iowa is well known, of course, for its distinctive farm state and smalltown character and for producing corn, soybeans, hogs, cattle, eggs, and other commodities. We have enjoyed tremendous benefits from greater diversification in agriculture and the rural economy. Take for example the boom in biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel and in wind power.

It is critical for us to enact this bill in order to continue and enhance the contributions of agriculture and agriculture-related industries to our Nation's economy, to jobs, and to meeting ever-growing global demands for food, fiber, and energy.

I commend Chairwoman Stabenow and Senator Roberts, the ranking Republican member, for all of their hard, conscientious, and successful work on this bill. I also thank them for their efforts to take into account and reflect in this bill the circumstances, views, and needs of both rural and urban America as well as the various regions and types of agriculture across our Nation. I certainly appreciate their task. This is the eighth farm bill I have worked to enact, starting as a member of the House Agriculture Committee. Since 1985 I have served on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee and am proud to have been the chairman of that committee during the writing and enactment of the most recent two farm bills.

This legislation, approved by our committee in April, is a sound, balanced, and bipartisan bill crafted under budget conditions that have necessitated difficult decisions, judgments, and compromises. According to scoring by the Congressional Budget Office, this measure will reduce spending over the next 10 fiscal years by more than $23 billion from budget baseline levels.

The spending reductions in programs encompassed in this bill thus appear to be several billion dollars larger than the automatic spending cuts slated to begin in January of next year under the sequestration mechanism in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Hence, this farm bill is a serious, good-faith effort going significantly beyond the minimum to reduce our budget deficits and curtail our Nation's debt. Again, these spending reductions will have very real impacts, and frankly I regret them and their consequences. We are not as a Nation investing too much in the future of our Nation's agriculture and food system, in fighting hunger and malnutrition, in conserving our Nation's soil, water, and other resources for future generations, in securing our future with renewable energy and biobased materials, or in strengthening and growing jobs in our Nation's small towns and rural communities. Unquestionably, because of our Federal budget situation and choices that have been made in dealing with it, there is less money to respond to national needs and priorities in the Federal policies and programs covered in this bill.

Given the budgetary hand dealt it, the Agriculture Committee, with the bipartisan leadership of our Chairwoman and Ranking Member, reported a bill combining budget savings with genuine reforms throughout its various titles. The most significant reform--in fact, pivotal reform--lies in the substantial changes in the commodity and farm income protection programs.

To help farm families and rural communities survive and manage the inevitable vagaries of weather and markets, the new farm bill continues a strong system ensuring a degree of stability and protecting against significant losses in farm income. The legislation contains major reform in terminating the existing direct and countercyclical Payments Program and replacing it with the Agriculture Risk Coverage, or ARC, program. ARC is designed to compensate for a portion of farm revenue losses and to supplement the revenue insurance policies that farmers typically rely upon to manage risk.

Because farm income protection based on revenue accounts for the fact that farm income is the product of crop yield times its price in the market, ARC is an improvement over the direct and countercyclical payments program in current law. Direct payments are made in fixed amounts according to each farm's base acreage and program payment yields, which in general were established decades ago. Consequently, the direct payments do not accurately reflect or respond to existing economic circumstances in agriculture because they are made without regard to a farm's current planted acres of crops or to whether crop prices and yields are high or low. The existing countercyclical payment program compensates for a portion of losses when the national average price of a covered commodity falls below a statutory target price. But the countercyclical program's target prices are well below current market prices and costs of production for commodities, and of course, a price-based system does not account for yield losses.

Agricultural producers have been divided over the direct payments since they were adopted in the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 as a replacement for the then-existing target price income protection system. Supporters of direct payments note that they are considered not to be production or trade distorting and that they provide income assistance to farmers who may not benefit much from other commodity programs or crop insurance.

From their beginning, I believed that the direct payments were not sound policy. Within a few years, after they were enacted during a period of strong commodity prices, the direct payments proved inadequate to protect farm income in the face of a sharp falloff in commodity prices, and so we had to resort to enacting ad hoc emergency legislation to make up for the shortcomings of the direct payments.

To restore better protection against farm income losses, I introduced legislation in November 2001 to create a new countercyclical target revenue program. As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I was pleased that we then reinstated a countercyclical income protection program in the 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act. In 2007 and 2008, with the leadership of Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Sherrod Brown, I was pleased that we included the Average Crop Revenue Election, or ACRE Program, in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. ACRE is, of course, the forerunner of the ARC program in the pending new farm bill.

The reform and evolution reflected in this new farm bill is very greatly facilitated by the significant improvement and strengthening of the Federal Crop Insurance Program. Crop insurance, particularly the revenue policies, are now vitally important to agricultural producers, their lenders and creditors, and to the rural economy. So it is an important feature of this bill that it further strengthens and improves the Crop Insurance Program, building upon the Agriculture Risk Protection Act of 2000 and additional improvements in the past two farm bills.

The pending bill also continues a strong conservation title with highly effective programs and funding for them, along with extensive reforms, streamlining, and updating of their structure and functioning. The Department of Agriculture's conservation programs have an outstanding record of success in helping America's farmers and ranchers produce an abundant supply of food, fiber, and fuel, while conserving and protecting our Nation's soil, water, wildlife, and other natural resources. Again, I very much regret that budget circumstances have imposed spending reductions in the conservation title of this bill. There is far more conservation work to be done and demand for USDA conservation assistance than can be met with existing levels of funding. But, as I have noted, these funding reductions are the reality for the crafting of this bill.

In the past two farm bills, as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I made a very strong push for strengthening the full range of USDA conservation programs and for increasing funding to respond to the need and demand for conservation assistance to farmers and ranchers across our Nation. In the 2002 and 2008 farm bills, we very substantially increased our Federal investment in agricultural conservation, building upon successes in preceding farm bills, especially owing to the leadership of the former chairmen of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Leahy and Senator Lugar.

For many years, I have emphasized the necessity of promoting and assisting sound conservation practices on land in agricultural production, often referred to as ``working lands''. Agricultural producers are striving to produce much more food in the coming decades to nourish billions more inhabitants of the the Earth. If we hope to produce more and more food in the coming years, it is critical to conserve the underlying resources that support agricultural production.

My objective has been to enact and invest in programs that compensate and assist agricultural producers for their costs, foregone income, and environmental benefits associated with adopting and maintaining practices that protect and sustain soil, water, wildlife, and other resources. In the 1990 farm bill, the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act, we included the Agricultural Water Quality Incentives Program, which I had authored, to provide incentive and cost share payments for practices addressing water quality issues in agricultural production.

In the 1996, 2002, and 2008 farm bills, we substantially expanded and improved conservation programs covering land in agricultural production. I am especially proud of the Conservation Stewardship Program, CSP, which I authored and worked successfully to include in the 2002 farm bill, where it was then named the Conservation Security Program. CSP now has enrolled nearly 50 million acres of agricultural land across our Nation, including crop land, pasture land, range land, and forest land.

CSP and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, EQIP, both focus on promoting and supporting conservation on land that is in agricultural production. They are not land-idling programs. Agricultural producers voluntarily enroll in CSP and EQIP because they are committed to good stewardship and these programs help them fulfill that commitment. CSP and EQIP also help farmers and ranchers to take voluntary action to solve environmental and conservation challenges and thereby avoid regulations. Participants in both programs contribute their own money, time, and effort, so the Federal funds leverage a significant amount of added private money. The level of interest in and demand for both EQIP and CSP greatly exceeds the funding now available and that which is provided in this bill.

To be clear, America's farmers and ranchers have done a tremendous amount of excellent conservation work. Even so, they know that a good deal more conservation work is needed, and they are dedicated to carrying it out. Providing them assistance through the several USDA conservation programs included in this farm bill is a tremendously important investment in conserving and protecting our Nation's vital natural resources for future generations.

This agriculture and food legislation also continues, with reforms and spending reductions, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, and related programs that help low-income families put food on their tables. No title of this bill is more critical to those who rely upon its benefits, nor is any title more important to our Nation in meeting our responsibilities to our fellow citizens. We hear criticisms of Federal nutrition assistance, but let us not forget that the vast majority of Americans who receive this help are children, seniors, people with disabilities, or working families. Indeed, recent years have shown how vitally important SNAP and related nutrition assistance are to enabling working families and especially the children in these families avoid hunger and malnutrition.

The reforms in this bill reduce Federal spending by limiting eligibility and benefits. I regret that our budget circumstances have led to this outcome, but again I give credit to Senator Stabenow and Senator Roberts for holding these cuts to nutrition to much lower levels than other proposals that have been made, including the budget resolution adopted in the House of Representatives. It is also gratifying that this body has in recent days rejected several amendments that would have drastically reduced food assistance for the most vulnerable Americans.

Because the nutrition title in this bill is responsibly and carefully crafted, it continues important reforms and improvements that I am proud we were able to enact in the most recent two farm bills. In the 2002 legislation we restored certain benefits for legal immigrants, restored a portion of benefits that had been cut in previous legislation, increased incentives for work, simplified and increased integrity in nutrition assistance, increased emergency food assistance, dedicated mandatory funding to the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and adopted a pilot program I authored to provide free fresh fruits and vegetables to children in schools. In the 2008 bill we likewise included key improvements to nutrition assistance, such as further restoring previously cut benefits, encouraging savings by recipients, adopting a pilot program of incentives for healthier eating through SNAP, improved benefits for families with high childcare costs, expanded the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to a national program, dedicated mandatory funding for community food projects, increased mandatory funding for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, allowed a preference for purchasing locally produced food for child nutrition programs, and dedicated mandatory funds to the Farmers Market Promotion Program.

To promote energy efficiency on farms and in rural businesses and the production and use of renewable energy and biobased products, this legislation extends, improves, and strengthens programs in the energy title in the 2002 and 2008 farm bill. I am proud to have included the first farm bill energy title in the 2002 legislation, to strengthen and expand the energy title in the 2008 bill, and to continue the energy title as a prominent part of this bill. And thanks to the cooperation of Senators Stabenow, Roberts, Lugar, and Conrad, we were able to dedicate about $800 million in new funding to these critical energy initiatives in the bill reported from the Agriculture Committee.

In March of this year, I introduced S. 2270, the Rural Energy Investment Act of 2012, in order to extend the programs in the energy titles of the 2002 and 2008 farm bills and to provide mandatory funding for the energy title of this new farm bill. So I am very pleased that it includes a strong energy title and dedicates mandatory funding to it.

The bill continues the requirement I authored and we enacted in the 2002 farm bill for Federal departments and agencies to purchase biobased products and to create a ``BioPreferred'' labeling program to encourage private markets for biobased products. Also included in this bill are grants to assist pilot-scale biorefineries and loan guarantees for commercial biorefineries.

This bill appropriately continues the Biomass Research and Development Program, which is a joint initiative of USDA and the Department of Energy that awards grants for research on the full spectrum of bioenergy supply chains, from biomass feedstock development and production, to harvesting and handling, to biomass processing and fuels or products manufacturing.

The Rural Energy for America Program, REAP, the most popular program in the energy title because it provides direct financial support to many farmers, ranchers, and rural small businesses for rural energy systems or energy efficiency projects, is also continued. And this bill extends the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, BCAP, that supports establishment of biomass crops for bioenergy use and provides cost-share payments for harvest and delivery of biomass to user facilities in the initial years.

I am also very pleased that the bill continues, improves, and strengthens a number of initiatives that we included in previous farm bills to assist and promote opportunities for farmers and good nutrition for consumers through farmers markets and increased local production and marketing of food.

In this bill, the Farmers Market Promotion Program is renamed as the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and it provides competitively awarded USDA grants to improve and expand farmers markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture marketing, and other direct producer-to-consumer marketing, including funding for mobile electronic benefits transfer technology. The grants may also be used to help develop local systems focused on serving low-income communities. This bill increases the mandatory funding dedicated to the program to a total of $100 million.

The bill also extends and increases funding for community food projects through grants to nonprofit organizations to be used in improving access to healthy, nutritious food in communities, which can include assistance to farmers markets and other local food marketing systems. We included $5 million a year in mandatory funding in the 2008 farm bill, and this bill doubles that to $10 million a year.

For the Hunger Free Communities Initiative, the bill dedicates $100 million in new mandatory funding for incentive grants to support increased purchase of fruits and vegetables by families participating in SNAP in underserved communities.

To help farmers cover the cost of obtaining certification as qualified organic producers, the bill includes an increased level of mandatory funding, and it continues and funds the organic research and extension initiative. Also continued are the program of block grants to the States to assist fruit, vegetable, and horticulture crop producers and a special program supporting research projects focused on helping these producers. The bill continues the initiative I was pleased to include in the 2008 farm bill to provide cost-share assistance through EQIP to farmers who are making the transition to organic food production.

Mr. President, these are only some of the important features in this new farm bill. It is a strong bill, with substantial reforms and continued progress toward improved food, agriculture, conservation, energy, and rural policies for our Nation.

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