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Public Statements

Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. FORTENBERRY. Mr. Chairman, I have an amendment at the desk.

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Mr. FORTENBERRY. Mr. Chairman, first, I would like to begin by recognizing the hard work that Chairman Lucas has put into this bill, as well as Ranking Member Peterson. A complex bill such as this requires time, dedication, and a willingness to work with Members from a very diverse range of agricultural communities across this Nation, and I appreciate the effort.

I also recognize that many were here very late last night and there is a certain urgency to our deliberations. But I believe it is critically important that we also have a meaningful discussion and debate on the issue of payment limits.

The other legislative body has seen fit to include the language in this amendment in its version of the farm bill, and this amendment gives us the opportunity to send a message that some reform in this area is necessary.

While there is much to commend in this farm bill, Mr. Chairman, I am concerned that it falls short of successfully reforming the payment limit system. Without a doubt, agricultural payments are lopsided. Based on the USDA's annual Agricultural Resource Management Survey, the largest 12 percent of farms in terms of gross receipts received more than 62 percent of all government payments in 2009. Such a skewed system, Mr. Chairman, is simply not sustainable in the long run. It leads to the escalation of land prices and accelerates the concentration of land and resources into fewer hands. This is not healthy for rural America.

Continuation of the current system will only lead to greater concentration in agriculture and fewer opportunities for young and beginning farmers. We need a thoughtful and balanced approach here, one that encourages young people to take a chance and gives them some support when they need it, one that doesn't lend itself to the trend of fewer and fewer farms.

Mr. Chairman, we pride ourselves that agriculture is the main bright spot in America's economy. And how did we get here? By ensuring that we have a vibrant marketplace which depends upon large numbers of producers actively engaged in stewardship of the land.

The amendment I am offering will help farm supports reach their intended recipients as well and close loopholes that benefit investors not actively engaged in farming. It levels the playing field for farm families facing competition from larger operations that do collect the lion's share of government payments.

The amendment reduces farm payment limits, capping commodity payments at $250,000 for any one farm. That's a lot of subsidy. The legislation will also close loopholes in current law to ensure payments reach their intended recipient, that is, working farmers.

The savings from reforms established in this legislation help ensure that the farm payment system is also set on a more fiscally sustainable trajectory. It's fair to farmers, fair to the taxpayer, and fair to America because it incorporates good governing principles.

This amendment has wide support from a diverse range of agricultural groups, such as the National Farmers Union, the Center for Rural Affairs, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Heritage Action, and Citizens Against Government Waste. They recognize the opportunity we have for meaningful reform here.

Now, it is important, Mr. Chairman, to emphasize that this does not address crop insurance subsidies. That is a completely separate matter, and I recognize the need to differentiate between a program in which producers must contribute their own dollars toward the actuarial success of the program and one that is directly coming from the government.

Mr. Chairman, I have been through two farm bills now, and I've talked to hundreds of farmers in rural America. What they're looking for is simply a chance to compete, and compete well, not a guarantee of unlimited money from the government. We owe it to our hardworking farmers to sustain that fair and robust marketplace.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. FORTENBERRY. May I can inquire, Mr. Chairman, as to how much time I have remaining.

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Mr. FORTENBERRY. Mr. Chairman, I'm not out to punish anyone's success. In fact, I celebrate it.

A $250,000 subsidy is a lot of money to come directly from the government. I think many Americans would agree. We put caps and limits on virtually every other program, so why not this one? What I'm saying is that amount of money should be sufficient.

I would like to offer another example regarding direct engagement in farming that helps clarify the issue that my colleague just raised.

A farm in the Deep South recently received $440,000--again, none of it to someone actually working the farm, but to six general partners and five spouses, all of whom claim to be providing the management needed to running the farm.

What this bill does, in addition to capping payments, it provides a more enforceable working definition for those actively engaged in farm management, and that's an important reform as well.

Again, this has been worked out in the other legislative body from Members who represent diverse agricultural districts all over this country. I think this is a reasonable reform that, again, is fair to the taxpayers, fair to the farm family, and consistent with good governing principles. It's a balanced, reasonable approach.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. FORTENBERRY. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.

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