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Public Statements

Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CASEY. Madam President, I support passage of the 2012 farm bill, S. 3240, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012.

I have made it a priority to keep Pennsylvania's agricultural industry and our rural economies strong to support Pennsylvanian families.

Agriculture is the Commonwealth's largest industry. Pennsylvania's farm gate value that is cash receipts to growers, in 2010, was $5.7 billion. Agribusiness in Pennsylvania is a $46.4 billion industry, and 17.5 percent of Pennsylvanians are employed in the food and fiber system. What does this mean?

It means that the Senate MUST pass this farm bill, that the House must pass a farm bill, and that the President must sign a farm bill into law before it expires at the end of September.

The farm bill creates economic opportunities in our rural areas and sustains the consumers and businesses that rely on our rural economy. When the cows need to be milked, dairy farmers go out to the barn and do their jobs. We should follow their example and reauthorize the farm bill in a responsible way that helps contribute to deficit reduction.

If passed into law, this farm bill would reduce the deficit by approximately $23 billion through the elimination of some subsidies, the consolidation of programs, and producing greater efficiencies in program delivery.

Dairy is the Commonwealth's No. 1 agricultural sector. The dairy industry annually generates more than $1.6 billion in on-farm cash receipts, which represent about 42 percent of Pennsylvania's total agricultural receipts.

I introduced two dairy bills this Congress: the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act, S. 1640, and the Dairy Advancement Act, S. 1682. These bills are aimed to ensure that farmers receive a fair price for their milk to increase price transparency, to protect against price volatility, and to encourage processor innovation.

I am concerned that while the proposed dairy program to manage the Nation's milk supply will reduce the volatility of dairy farming, that program will discourage innovation and exports, as well as send the wrong signals to our trading partners.

I secured language which requires USDA to thoroughly examine if the dairy market stabilization program is working, and if it is not working, make recommendations on how to fix it. This bill also contains my amendment to codify the frequency of dairy product reporting that is important for the dairy industry to make business decisions. It would also require USDA to examine whether it would be practical to move to a two-class system for milk that could help to simplify the Federal milk marketing orders.

Dairy farmers deserve the best dairy program possible. The Senate bill contains many improvements that I support.

Making risk management and crop insurance products work better for Pennsylvanians, especially small farmers, specialty crop farmers, and organic farmers is very important.

This bill contains language similar to an amendment that I offered during the Agriculture Committee's markup that would help to improve crop insurance for organic farmers.

Providing funding through risk management, conservation, and agricultural marketing agencies to underserved States, the Agricultural Management Assistance, AMA, Program helps to make the farm bill more equitable among regions.

I sincerely appreciate the chairwoman's and ranking member's work to enhance the Agricultural Management Assistance Program, including support for organic transition assistance.

The improvements in this bill to crop insurance delivery are critical.

We have worked to address the unique concerns of specialty crop farmers and beginning farmers--and we have done so in a bipartisan way.

Specialty crops are very important to Pennsylvanian agriculture.

After working with the chairwoman and ranking member, I was able to ensure improvements in promotion programs within the farm bill and direct USDA to assess the feasibility of allowing organic producers to participate in an organic foods promotion program.

The Specialty Crops Research Initiative, SCRI, Specialty Crops Block Grant Program, and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program all advance the specialty crops industry, playing a key role in ensuring that this important agricultural sector receives continued acknowledgement in the farm bill. These programs remain strong under this bill.

In addition, the Nation's organic industry has grown exponentially from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $29 billion in 2010, with an annual growth rate of 19 percent from 1997 to 2008. In 2008, Pennsylvania was ranked sixth in number of organic farms with 586 and third in sales at $212.7 million.

Through research, we develop more efficient and effective farming methods. Research also helps producers maintain a competitive edge in the global market by fighting threatening diseases and pests.

I am pleased that the farm bill invests in relevant and targeted research and maintains the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service programs that work to eradicate the invasive species that threaten our Nation's forests and farms.

The U.S. Forest Service's State and private forestry programs are essential for assisting forest landowners in managing threats and enhancing stewardship. I am pleased that the farm bill continues the Forest Stewardship Program, FSP, so that forest owners can create long-term management plans with the technical assistance of State forestry agency partners.

I am also grateful to the chairwoman and ranking member for working with me to fix USDA's Biopreferred Program to even the playing field for Pennsylvanian forestry products. Revenues from Pennsylvania's forest products industry exceed $5.5 billion annually. Over 10 percent of the State's manufacturing workforce is involved in the forest products industry.

I am appreciative to the committee for the inclusion of my provision directing USDA to work with the Food and Drug Administration toward the development of a standard of identity for honey, a tool which will promote honesty and fair dealing and serve the interest of consumers and Pennsylvania's honey industry. The majority of our honey is imported, but because there is no standard, contaminated, low-quality honey continues to pass through customs and undercut our domestic product. Pennsylvania is a major player in the honey industry. Honey bee pollination can be directly attributed to the production of about $60 million of agricultural produce in Pennsylvania annually.

I am committed to keeping Pennsylvania's rural communities strong and support rural development programs that provide access to capital for rural businesses to provide economic opportunities and create jobs. A rural community's viability in attracting and keeping businesses is often directly related to the condition of its infrastructure and facilities. USDA's rural development programs empower rural communities, transform local economies, and preserve the quality of life in small towns across the Commonwealth. A rural economic development program that saves and creates jobs in rural economies and improves rural life is extremely important for Pennsylvanian families.

I introduced the Growing Opportunities for Agriculture and Responding to Markets, GO FARM, Act, which will help to enhance local food systems and encourage production of food for local communities. The GO FARM Act would provide loans to third parties to lend to producers growing products for local markets. In addition to the GO FARM Act, I support increasing the availability of healthy foods, addressing the issue of food deserts and developing and improving local food systems.

Farmers are the original stewards of the land and continue to lead the charge in protecting our natural resources. I believe the voluntary conservation programs in the farm bill provide important tools to help farmers comply with Federal and State regulations while keeping farmers in business. I am committed to making conservation programs more efficient, effective, and relevant to farmers.

Conservation programs are an extremely important resource for many Pennsylvanian farmers. I worked with my Senate colleagues to support enhancements to conservation programs through this process in an effort to ensure that these remodeled programs would better serve the needs of Pennsylvanians.

Pennsylvania's watersheds contribute more than half of the fresh water flowing to the Chesapeake Bay. While Pennsylvania does not border the bay, activities in the Commonwealth profoundly affect the bay's health. The bay, the largest estuarine ecosystem in the U.S., and its tributaries, such as Susquehanna and Potomac Rivers, are important to the region's economy, culture, and outdoor recreation.

Under the 2008 farm bill, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, CBWI, provided essential support to farmers facing Federal and state regulations concerning water quality and helped to meet demand for conservation programs. In advance of the Agriculture Committee's consideration of the 2012 farm bill, I introduced the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Fairness Act, which among other things reauthorized the CBWI, because I know Pennsylvania farmers used this program very well.

I am grateful that the 2012 farm bill contains portions of this legislation which are aimed at equipping farmers with the tools necessary to better meet water quality goals. However, in this bill, CBWI is not continued. Due to the committee's desire to reduce the number of conservation programs, the farm bill consolidates four different programs into one that will provide competitive funds to regional partnerships and will also provide conservation funding directly to producers. CBWI was one of the programs that got folded into this new program.

I worked very closely with other Senators from the watershed to strengthen the conservation title to better benefit our region. Together we secured significant policy improvements. The current bill focuses on the most critical conservation areas and will help farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed participate in conservation programs so that they can help the region meet water quality standards.

Pennsylvania's agricultural producers and forestland owners use the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, EQIP, to implement conservation practices, which might otherwise be cost prohibitive, to protect valuable natural resources.

Further, the Farmland Protection Program, FPP, protects prime farmland from development. FPP should remain a permanent easement program to keep working lands preserved as farm land; should keep State, local governments, and nongovernmental organizations as partners; and should certify successful entities like the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Farmland Protection to improve the efficiency of this program. We worked very hard to make improvements to FPP during the last farm bill and those developments continue.

While I do not mention all of the farm bill conservation programs, I do believe that each serves an important purpose.

Ending hunger remains one of my top priorities, as it cuts across all of the major challenges we face as a country. There is no better opportunity to strengthen nutrition policy and programs than through a well-crafted farm bill.

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, SNAP, is the Federal Government's primary response to the food insecurity experienced by so many people. SNAP is an integral part of the overall safety net, which enables people to get back on their feet.

Similarly, The Emergency Food Assistance Program, TEFAP, enables food banks, shelters, and other providers to deliver necessary food packages and meals to people with emergency food needs. The Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program also provide vital food resources to low-income seniors who are often not helped by other food assistance programs. I support these programs as they assist the most vulnerable of our society--children, seniors, and families experiencing food insecurity.

As Congress works to authorize the 2012 farm bill, I will continue to fight to protect the needs of Pennsylvanians.

I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass this farm bill.


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