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Mr. ROBERTS. Mr. President, today I have just introduced legislation in regards to our efforts to, once again, try to address a farm bill on behalf of our Nation's farmers, ranchers, and dairy producers. We passed a farm bill in the last session. It was one of the first bills where we achieved regular order, i.e., where every Senator had an opportunity to have an amendment. Many did. We had over 300, as I recall--``we'' meaning the distinguished chairperson of the committee, Senator Stabenow, and myself as the ranking member at that particular time. Thank goodness not all 300 demanded a vote, but I think we voted 73 times, and we passed the bill by a good bipartisan margin. I hope we can get back to that. The chairperson, Senator Stabenow, is working very diligently to produce another farm bill.
I see the distinguished majority leader coming to the floor. He was very helpful in our pleas to bring a farm bill to the floor. Senator Reid actually asked me whether we could do it in 3 days as I promised, and we did it in 2 1/2 , so with cooperation we got that done. It was, as I say, the first bill we took up in the last session where we did have regular order. I hope we can keep that record. I thank the majority leader for his efforts in that regard.
Why am I bringing this up now, even before we mark up in regards to the bill I have introduced? Basically because farmers are now planting their crops despite 3 years of drought and all sorts of hardship and all sorts of uncertainty about a farm bill. We have extended the 2008 act. It is not what we wanted to do in the Senate, but that is what happened. So we hope that does not happen again.
We hope we can work again in a bipartisan way to produce a product that not only helps the farmer and rancher--we have, what, 6 billion people in the world today? We are going to go to 9 billion people in the next several decades. Everybody in the Senate should be aware of that. It is an overriding issue. We are going to have to double our agricultural production if we are going to continue our efforts to feed this country in a troubled and hungry world.
That even has national security implications. Show me a country that does not have a stable food supply, and I will show you a country that is in a lot of trouble. Just read about the Mideast and what is happening there.
What do farmers want? I mean what was the No. 1 issue we heard--``we'' meaning, again, Senator Stabenow and I--when we held farm hearings both in Michigan, specialty crops, and Kansas, program crops: wheat, corn, beans et cetera? Over and over the No. 1 issue was crop insurance.
We were trying to get out of the business or stay out of the business of farmers planting for the government. And ``farm subsidies,'' that always makes the headlines in the Washington Post for people who for the most part have never been west of the Missouri River.
Despite all the criticisms of the farm program, I think we consolidated and reformed 100 different programs. We saved roughly $23 or $24 billion--the first authorizing committee to do so. We also strengthened and improved crop insurance. That was the No. 1 issue for farm lenders, the No. 1 issue for farmers and ranchers, and the No. 1 issue for everybody involved in the miracle of agriculture that allows us to do this so Americans have the safest, most abundant, and cheapest food in the history of the world.
I hear time and time again from our producers and their lenders that crop insurance is the cornerstone of the farm safety net. I hear it at home in Kansas. We hear it in the Agriculture Committee. I hear it every time I speak to producers in Washington. I know the chairperson of the committee, Senator Stabenow, has heard the same. All members of the committee know the value of crop insurance. I mean all members of the distinguished Committee on Agriculture.
As we head into another round of farm bill debates, and I know the chairperson would like to get it done, would like to mark up a bill in the next 3 weeks--I don't know if that is possible; we will see. We did that in 2 1/2 days in the last session of Congress. Whether we can do that again I am not sure--I am constantly asked for my priorities, and my priorities reflect what I have heard from farmers and ranchers at home and their bankers and their lenders and everybody who wants consistency. The No. 1 priority for the farm bill is crop insurance. If you doubt the importance of crop insurance, just look what it has provided the past 2 years. It is rather unbelievable.
Since 2011 we have faced the worst drought since the Dust Bowl in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas--and in Nebraska now. In so many cases Nebraska is worse than any other place.
Then we had the massive flooding along the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers, and hurricanes that simply devastated the Northeast as well. I don't know what we have done to Mother Nature, but she sure has not been very kind to us. In 2012 the drought worsened and spread across the Midwest to States such as Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois. Now that we are into the Midwest, now we have headlines about the drought. When we burn up almost every year out in our country, on the high plains, nobody gets any attention. But they get it in the Midwest, they get a lot of attention.
Just months after all of this, why are producers still
now tuning up their equipment and preparing their fields to put seed in the ground once again? A farmer never puts any seed in the ground without hope for a crop. Hope springs eternal with regard to agriculture, and here we are, once again, having that capability. It is not because of some agriculture ad hoc disaster program that seems to appear every even-numbered year in this body or any package for farmers, through a disaster program, that would represent some kind of help. Farmers are back on their feet and producing the food that feeds a troubled and hungry world because of crop insurance. They are able to put the seed in the ground again because they managed their risk and protected their operations from Mother Nature's destruction through the purchase of crop insurance.
This is the one component of the farm safety net that requires a producer to have skin in the game. We could apply that to a lot of other things that we debate on the floor of the Senate. Don't forget, crop insurance only provides coverage if a producer actually has a loss. So a Kansas farmer might pay into the crop insurance system for years or a farmer or a producer from Wisconsin or, for that matter, anyplace that values agriculture. But if they never experience a severe loss or a natural disaster, they will never receive a penny. Simply, crop insurance allows producers a way to manage risk so they can continue to provide a stable and secure food supply and pass their operations on to their children.
If that is not a success story in the partnership between government and private industry and America's farmers, I don't know what is. But just because a program is successful doesn't mean there is not room for improvement. That is what the bill is that I just laid at the desk.
Crop insurance is a big tent with plenty of room under it. The program already protects more than 250 million acres of cropland in the United States, more than two-thirds of the eligible acres that we farm. But there are still acres that are not protected and producers who cannot afford to purchase this kind of protection they need. The more producers under that crop insurance tent, and the more that are protected from disaster, the more stable our food supply and our rural economies will be.
We made great progress, as I said, last year in the Agriculture Committee and on the Senate floor improving crop insurance to bring even more people under the tent. Today, I am here again to continue our work to preserve and protect and strengthen our crop insurance. My legislation enhances the Crop Insurance Program by including something called a Supplemental Coverage Option. The acronym for that is SCO. It allows producers to purchase additional crop insurance coverage on an area yield and loss basis. It also amends the Federal Crop Insurance Act to make available separate enterprise units for irrigated and nonirrigated acreages of crops in counties. That is especially helpful in regard to what we are going through with another year of drought.
The bill also addresses the declining Actual Production History, that is a yield problem, by increasing the county transitional yield. So if someone did not have a yield in their farm, but they could then go to the county yield average, they would be in a lot better shape. They would be helped out in one area and not another area. This would help in that respect.
The legislation also sets budget limitations. Yes, we set budget limitations on future renegotiation of what is called the Standard Reinsurance Agreement by requiring any savings realized in the SRA renegotiations to return to the Crop Insurance Program, to return to the RMA programs. Let's not use the Crop Insurance Program where we have savings and then use it as a bank for other programs. That has happened far too often--in the Senate and in the House.
The legislation also continues the Stacked Income Protection Plan--that is known as STAX--for the producers who plant upland cotton. That means all or most all of the products that we produce in the organizations that represent those commodities and represent those farmers who grow the commodities are in agreement--and cotton was very helpful in the last farm bill.
Meanwhile, in order to help pay down the debt and reduce the deficit, the legislation is fully paid for by the elimination of direct payments which saves taxpayers $5 billion over 10 years. Overall, the legislation will strengthen the farm safety net while at the same time saving taxpayers billions of dollars and preventing costly ad hoc agriculture disaster programs.
There are those who don't believe in a good Crop Insurance Program. When Mother Nature doesn't behave and they get into these terribly destructive forces of nature--and it always happens. As I have said, it usually happens on an even-numbered year. If they are going to get into a disaster program and take part in it, they better darn well make sure to say: OK. I am going to help you out, but don't put your name on it. Because when it comes out to the Farm Service Agency and all the people who are supposed to implement it at the Department of Agriculture and in almost every county in the United States, it is a disaster to implement and the farmer doesn't get the kind of help he or she needs. That is not the way to do business. The cost annually is far greater than the Crop Insurance Program.
Overall, the legislation will strengthen the farm safety net while at the same time saving the taxpayers billions of dollars. It prevents ad hoc agriculture disaster programs. That is what the farmer wants. The farmer wants certainty. If he takes part in a Crop Insurance Program, he has certainty and he has protection.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the farm programs greatly distorted planning decisions. As chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, back in the day, along with others in the Senate, we did everything we could to eliminate those distortions. Why? Because with the World Trade Organization, we could get in a lot of trouble.
I am confident this proposal is the responsible path forward for agriculture, and it will not drive planting decisions or leave farmers to plant for the government program rather than the marketplace. With this crop insurance legislation, we have the opportunity to improve on an enormously successful program and continue good farm program policies.
We have a lot of work ahead of us to pass and sign a farm bill into law. A lot of farmers and a lot of ranchers are depending on it, and there are a lot of people who benefit from it. As I said, we have the lowest cost and safest food in the history of the world, and it allows us to use our wherewithal in a humanitarian way to be of help to those in need who undergo some very difficult circumstances. As I have indicated, agriculture involves our national security.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Agriculture Committee, farmers across the country, and industry partners to enact this legislation as part of the farm bill.
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