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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Madam President, I rise to speak on S. 954, the legislation to reauthorize agricultural programs.
As a former chairman and ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, I recognize how difficult it is to combine all the diverse interests into a single piece of legislation that meets the needs of all crops, all regions, and all rural and urban communities the farm bill impacts.
I thank Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran for the work they have done to craft a reform-minded bill that not only saves $24 billion with sequestration cuts included but also provides an effective safety net for farmers and ranchers all across the country to rely on in times of need.
This bill embodies reforms, streamlining, and consolidation, and with the biggest issue facing our country today being our growing debt and deficit, I commend the members of the Agriculture Committee for stepping up and doing the work necessary to find savings. While we take these essential steps, we must also do it in an equitable and a fair manner.
Agricultural producers face a combination of challenges such as unpredictable weather, variable input costs, and market volatility that all combine to determine profit or loss in any given year. The 2008 farm bill provided a strong safety net for producers, and successor legislation must adhere to and honor the same commitment we made 5 years ago. It is also important to note that this bill must not only work to protect producers in times of need, but it must responsibly serve as the Nation's safety net for the nutritional well-being of low-income Americans.
Last year, when we went through this process, I was unable to support the bill. However, I appreciate the chairwoman and ranking member for making improvements to last year's bill. While the bill before us is not perfect, I believe everyone who is involved in agriculture understands that it addresses the needs of U.S. agriculture, which is what the policy coming out of this body should address.
While I understand there are different ideas about what safety net is best, I urge my colleagues to recognize that one program does not work for all crops. The bill before us attempts to provide producers with options to find what works best for them, and that is a step in the right direction.
A new program known as Adverse Market Protection seeks to serve the needs of those who are not protected by the Agriculture Risk Coverage--ARC--and Crop Insurance Programs. It is imperative that the farm safety net provide protection for multiyear declines, especially for southern crops such as rice and peanuts, since the protection provided by ARC and crop insurance is not sufficient.
Also, I would like to recognize that the upland cotton policies contained in the chairwoman's mark represent fundamental reform in the support provided to cotton farmers--reforms that contribute $2.8 billion toward savings in the committee's budget target. The legislation eliminates or changes all title I programs providing direct support to those involved in cotton production and puts us down the path to resolving our WTO dispute with Brazil.
Further, I would like to express my support for a provision in this bill that ties conservation compliance to crop insurance. My amendment last year on the floor relinked the two, and since then 32 leading agricultural, conservation, and crop insurance groups have come to support this provision and have come together with ideas to form a compromise on details of this linkage. The compromise will provide a strong safety net for our farmers and natural resources, while allowing them to be wise stewards of the taxpayer resources.
For those of us who enjoy hunting and fishing and the outdoors, this provision will provide for future generations of Americans the same opportunity we have to hunt and fish today.
There is another provision that did not come up in the discussion in the Agriculture Committee that I would like to briefly comment on, and that is the dairy program. The dairy program is always an integral part of every farm bill, and I am not anywhere near an expert on the dairy program. In fact, I kind of leave that to States where it has a more significant impact. But in my State, when I came to Congress almost 20 years ago, we had in excess of 700 dairies in Georgia. Today we have less than 300. In fact, it is closer to 250.
I do not know what the problem is, but I do think, as we move this bill off the floor and into conference--particularly with what has been going on in the House relative to dairy and the discussion over there--we need to be mindful of the fact that we need to address this program long term. If the way it is designed now is the best we can do, so be it. But I do think it is going to merit a significant discussion on dairy once we get to conference and have our ideas shared with the House and the House ideas shared with us.
This will be my fourth and final farm bill as a Member of Congress. As a member of the Agriculture Committee and as a strong supporter of Georgia agriculture for my nearly 20 years in Congress, I have witnessed several disputes, especially regional disputes. However, I am confident we can balance the needs and interests between commodities and regions to reach our common goal of getting a farm bill across the line.
Ultimately, the reason we are here is to represent those who work the land each and every day to provide the highest quality agricultural products and the safest agricultural products of any country in the world. We have the opportunity to write a bill that is equal to their commitment to provide the food, feed, and fiber that allow America to be the greatest Nation on Earth.
Madam President, I thank you, and I look forward to the forthcoming debate on the remaining amendments.
I yield the floor.
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