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Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I am here today to talk about the 2012 farm bill and the importance of moving forward with this important legislation.
First, I wish to acknowledge the incredibly hard work of Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts and their commitment to producing a bipartisan bill that cleared the Agriculture Committee this April with a strong bipartisan vote.
The Agriculture Committee is a successful model of how we can work across the aisle on tough problems to get work done. It always has been. This cooperative effort was not on a small or merely symbolic issue but on a major piece of legislation that impacts every single American. Throughout the process, this committee has faced unprecedented budget challenges, as has our country, but under Chairwoman Stabenow's leadership, the committee has worked together on a bill that makes tough choices, works within a budget to provide $23 billion in deficit reduction, and preserves the core programs that are important for Minnesota and other States across the country.
I believe this carefully crafted bill finds a good balance between a number of priorities, and I urge Members of the Senate to continue to work together in the same spirit that was exemplified in the Agriculture Committee to complete work on this bill as quickly as possible.
I have spent the last year going all around our State; I have talked to farmers and businesses across Minnesota. No matter where I go, I am always reminded of the critical role farming plays in our State's economy. We are 21st in the country for population, but we are 6th in the country for agriculture. It is our State's leading export, accounting for $75 billion in economic activity and supporting more than 300,000 jobs. It is one of the major reasons our unemployment rate is at 5.6 percent--significantly better than the national average--and that is because we have had consistent farm policy coming out of this Chamber, out of Washington, DC--and you can't say that in every area of industry--consistent policy coming from the government over the last decade. That must continue because it doesn't just help our farmers on the front line, it feeds into many industries, and it certainly feeds into agricultural exports.
Our State is No. 1 in turkeys in the United States of America--a fact you might not have known. We are No. 1 for green peas and sugar beets. We are also home to Jennie-O turkey and Del Monte vegetable processing facilities, just to name a few. We are No. 1 in spring wheat and also home to a rich tradition of milling. We are No. 3 in hogs and soybeans and also home to pork processors and biodiesel plants. We are No. 4 in the country for corn and also home to 21 ethanol plants that produce over 1 billion gallons of ethanol every single year, and that is one of the major reasons our country has reduced our dependency on foreign oil from something like 60 percent 5 years ago to the mid-40s now.
That is an incredible record. It has to do with oil drilling in North Dakota, it has to do with better gas mileage in our cars and trucks, but it also has to do with biofuels.
Minnesotans in rural communities and larger cities all benefit from a strong farm economy that provides jobs on the farms, in mills, and processing plants, equipment manufacturers--another key export for the United States of America--and a diverse range of high-tech jobs in today's modern agriculture. That is why there is so much at stake in this 2012 farm bill and why it is so important for us to finish with a strong and effective bill that gets the job done for America's farmers and for our rural economy.
It is no secret that during each step of the process, we have been working within a tough budget climate, but that doesn't mean the goal of maintaining a strong farm safety net or a safe, nutritious, and abundant food supply is any less critical. The last thing we want to do is be dependent on foreign food the way we are dependent on foreign oil--even though we have seen improvement. We do not want that to happen with foreign food.
How have we done this to get $23 billion in cuts? The first thing that is important for people to understand who are not from rural areas, who are from metro areas--my State has both--or States that are more urban focused is that only 14 percent of this farm bill is farm programs. It could have had a different name, but a lot of people call it the farm bill. It is only 14 percent. The rest is conservation, nutrition programs, school lunches--you name it. While only 14 percent of the farm bill is farm programs, nearly two-thirds of the cuts over last year are on that 14 percent. Nearly two-thirds of the $23 billion in cuts--nearly $16 billion--is cut from farm programs, which are only 14 percent of the farm bill.
I heard from many producers in Minnesota as we dealt with how we are going to get rid of direct payments I have long advocated. We had huge floor fights last time on some reform to the farm payment system. I thought we needed to make some changes there and get that number down in terms of the money that can be spent in the income, but now we have actually eliminated direct payments. So that is why the crop insurance part of this bill becomes even more important.
The bill also continues the Sugar Program, which is important to our country--tens of thousands of jobs across the country, tens of thousands of jobs in the Red River Valley in Minnesota and North Dakota--and also helps to ensure that we have a strong domestic sugar industry.
The bill also simplifies the commodity programs by eliminating a number of programs and replacing them with the Agriculture Risk Coverage Program which complements crop insurance by providing protection against multiyear price declines.
The bill also protects the conservation programs we need. It helps our agricultural producers keep our soil healthy and our water clean. Our State is No. 5 in the Conservation Reserve Program, No. 3 in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and No. 1 in the Conservation Stewardship Program. Specifically, I have worked to ensure that local communities also have the tools they need to address conservation challenges. Conservation groups, from Ducks Unlimited to Pheasants Forever, know how important the farm bill is, and that is why over 640 conservation groups are supporting the committee's work on the farm bill.
The committee-passed farm bill also preserves the essential nutrition programs that millions of families and children rely on every day. Importantly, this bill avoids the radical cuts to nutrition programs and school lunches that would have been proposed in other budgets.
This bill also includes a number of amendments that I authored, including an amendment that will help beginning farmers and ranchers better manage their risk and access land as they get a start in agriculture. We need to make sure that we have a next generation of farmers and ranchers, that it just does not end here.
Beginning farmers face big obstacles, including limited access to credit and technical assistance and, of course, the high price of land. During committee markup, I introduced an amendment with Senator Baucus that helps beginning farmers purchase crop insurance by increasing their help 10 percent for the first 5 years. I believe that people who grow our food deserve to know their livelihoods cannot be swept away in the blink of an eye, either by market failures or by natural disaster. That is why strengthening crop insurance for our beginning farmers is a priority.
I also worked to include an amendment--with Senators Johanns, Baucus, and Hoeven--to allow beginning producers to use CRP acres for grazing without a penalty. I believe this will go a long way, again, in building the next generation of farmers.
As an original cosponsor of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, which was introduced by Senator Harkin, I also fought for the mentoring and outreach provisions for new farmers and training in business planning and credit-building--the skills they need to succeed and stay on the land.
Homegrown renewable fuels have helped us reduce our share of dependence on liquid fuels. I believe we can continue this trend. As I mentioned, we have seen an enormous shift in our dependence on foreign oil. Much of that has to do with biofuels, now 10 percent of our fuel supply in this country, as we work to make it more and more fuel efficient, use less water, transition to cellulosic. What we do know is that we should be focusing on the workers and the farmers of the Midwest and not the cartels of the Mideast. That is what helped reduce our foreign oil dependency in the last few years, as well as the drilling I mentioned before.
I also cosponsored the amendment introduced by Senators Conrad and Lugar to provide funding for the energy title. This is key in this farm bill.
I know we have all heard from farmers and ranchers in our States about the importance of passing a 5-year farm bill. Think about the work that is done in Congress. Every business says: We need a longer time period, we need consistency for our tax credits, and we need to know what is happening. This is one area where we have actually done it. We have done this with the farm bill over the last decade. The last two farm bills with 5-year windows have been fairly consistent. We have an opportunity to do it again and still save $23 billion on the budget, still make sure those nutrition programs are there for our kids, still make sure the most vulnerable among us can be fed and not go hungry, and still make sure those vital conservation programs are there for this country.
There is a reason agriculture has been able to keep its head above water in these difficult times. A lot of it has to do with consistent policies. That is one of my main messages to my colleagues. We have one of the stars in terms of exports coming out of this farm bill. That is one of the main reasons it is so important, because we not only are growing food for the people of this country, we are feeding the world, and we are keeping the jobs in America.
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