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Mr. BOOZMAN. Mr. President, I rise today to speak to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act or the farm bill.
The chair, ranking member, and all of the members of the Senate Agriculture Committee have worked very hard in a bipartisan manner on this legislation and we have certainly come a very long way. But we still have far to go, and I think that with the leadership of the chairwoman and other members of this body that recognize the need for a safety net that meets the needs of all crops and regions that we will eventually get there--and I thank the chair for her strong leadership. The fact that we are discussing this bill on the floor of the Senate right now is a testament to it.
This Nation has a diverse fabric of agriculture with a variety of risks, and writing a farm bill that serves as a safety net for all crops and regions is no easy task. Yet, this is a responsibility we must embrace to ensure that the United States continues to have the safest, most reliable, and most affordable supply of food and fiber in the world.
Our Nation is at a crossroads and we are in desperate need of fiscal discipline. I am pleased that this farm bill includes important reforms, reduces spending by more than is required of this committee, and eliminates duplicative or obsolete government programs to ensure that we are getting the most out of every dollar we invest in agriculture.
The Forestry title contains important improvements that will benefit Arkansas's forestry industry. The improvements to the USDA Bio-based Markets program in the managers' package will allow forest products to be included in the program. The current USDA Bio-based markets program favors foreign products over our American forest products, which puts American workers at a disadvantage. So I am happy with the progress on this issue, and I appreciate the effort to promote and purchase our renewable, home-grown products.
Crop insurance also contains some improvements, and the provisions for irrigated and non-irrigated enterprise units, supplemental coverage options, and yield plugs will help many producers who may have otherwise been left unprotected by the elimination of direct payments and the counter-cyclical program.
At the same time, this is not a perfect bill and I have serious concerns about the Commodity title and the impact it will have on southern producers and the planting decisions they make. I also have concerns about some missed opportunities in terms of eliminating waste and abuse in the Nutrition title.
The Commodity title, as it is currently written, will have a devastating impact on southern agriculture which relies heavily on irrigation and, therefore, benefits less from crop insurance. Furthermore, the new revenue plan is designed to augment crop insurance, so this new program leaves gaping holes in the Southern Safety Net. Even with a reference price, this revenue plan may not be strong enough for our farmers to get operating loans. For example, most estimates find that rice would lose more than 70 percent of its baseline, far more than their fair share. However, this is not about just one crop. Every farmer in America knows the real threat of multi-year price declines, and we need a Commodity title that treats all crops and regions fairly.
I am very concerned that this proposal is couched in the assumption that we will continue to have these high commodity prices. A revenue plan is attractive when prices are high, but I am not sure there is anything in this plan that protects producers from a multi-year price decline and an untested, one-size-fits-all program, with no producer choice could leave many producers vulnerable.
Throughout this process, I have said that anything that goes too far in any direction can violate the core principles of this effort. I am afraid that this Commodity title does that in its current form.
It is my opinion that we could have done more to eliminate waste and abuse in the Nutrition title and ensure that we are getting the most out of these investments and that they are, in fact, going to the neediest among us. We should fully close the LIHEAP loophole, which artificially inflates benefits for SNAP recipients, and there are other things we can do to save money without reducing benefits and reinvest in other critical nutrition areas and deficit reduction. When we tell Americans that we cannot find more than $4 billion in savings from programs that account for nearly 80 percent of all agriculture spending, I can not think that they would believe we are trying hard enough.
But just because there is not full agreement, does not mean that our farmers stop needing a safety net. I am committed to continuing the fight for a safety net that works not just for Arkansans--but for all farmers, of all crops, in all regions of the country. With a responsible producer choice, I believe we can build the consensus necessary to usher a farm bill through the entire legislative process and see it signed into law this year.
We can do this while preserving the safety net, making reforms, and achieving deficit reduction. I am confident that we can craft a bill that we are all proud of, and I look forward to continuing to work with the chair, ranking member, and all the members of Congress and seeing this through.
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