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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, Thomas Jefferson once said: "Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.''

I know many Montana farmers and ranchers who understand that exactly. They know what Jefferson meant. They work the soils and tend their herds month after month, often through natural disasters such as the drought we had in 2012. It is hard work, but they do it because it is work worth doing. The dirt under their nails and the sweat on their brow puts food on our tables every day. The farm bill supports that effort, the bill before us this afternoon. It is work worth doing.

Make no mistake, the farm bill is a jobs bill. It supports 16 million American jobs every year. In my State of Montana, one in every five jobs is tied to agriculture. Those jobs are counting on us to get this bill done.

As we work to tackle the debt, it is important to remember the farm bill cuts spending by $23 billion. The farm bill is part of the solution, not part of the problem. Under the leadership of Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran, we have crafted a true reform farm bill. We worked with farmers and ranchers across the country to create a farm policy that works for producers and taxpayers both. It provides support that is needed when they actually experience a loss.

As Will Rogers notably said: "The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn't still be a farmer.''

Farming is capital intensive. Farmers work with paper-thin profit margins. Even the best farmer is left at the mercy of weather and chance.

The drought last year is an example of the risk farmers face. USDA predicts that 80 percent of agricultural land experienced drought in 2012, making it one of the most expensive droughts in a generation. In Montana that means 48 of 56 counties with parched crops and empty fields. The revenue program in this bill, combined with the crop insurance products we have fine-tuned over the decades, will help farmers survive disasters such as this and prepare to put food on America's tables when weather or market conditions improve.

Anyone who has been to Montana knows we have the best-tasting beef in the world too--or at least we think so. For the last year our ranchers have weathered this drought with no support. With hay and water in short supply, they have been forced to thin their herds. Thinning herds means lost jobs in Montana, because 50 percent of our economy is tied to agriculture, and about 35 percent of our total agriculture proceeds come from cattle and calf sales.

Livestock disaster assistance keeps our ranchers in business until the rain starts falling again. That is why I created these programs in 2008, and that is why I fought so hard to make them permanent in this bill--to finally provide our ranchers with certainty they can take to the bank. In the last farm bill they were not permanent and caused almost another disaster. I thank the chairman and ranking member for working with me to extend that livestock disaster with limited funds.

We did not stop there. We did not stop with reforming the farm bill. We saved $6 billion from in the conservation title without compromising the policy. We did this by consolidating 23 existing programs, bringing a tight network of efficient and streamlined conservation programs.

I made sure we protected the working lands programs, which contribute to substantial conservation improvements but still allow for productive use of the land.

In the forestry title, we permanently authorized stewardship contracting. This is so important to the western one-third of our State. This will help the timber industry sustainably harvest more trees. Anyone in western Montana will tell you that means jobs.

We also included support to combat the bark beetle epidemic that has killed over 6 million acres of Montana forests. Senator Bennet and I worked together to make sure those dead trees can be harvested more quickly before the wood wastes or burns. With fire season already well underway in Montana, this investment is more important than ever.

I was also extremely proud of our work to help veterans find jobs in farming. Forty-five percent of our servicemembers come from rural areas. This is a national statistic, so farming is a natural fit for veterans looking to return home to a rural way of life.

In the nutrition title, I am proud to say we kept the fundamentals of the food stamp program intact so low-income families have their safety net in place as the economy continues to improve. We even found a way to trump up spending for TEFAP, which provides emergency food for needy families.

In Montana, agriculture is a way of life. It is our biggest industry. Our 29,300 farms produce billions of dollars worth of quality wheat, barley, peas, and lentils--to say nothing of our livestock. Our ranchers have 2.5 million head of cattle, which means there are more cows in Montana than people.

The farm bill is not just for producers. It also provides funding for rural businesses, from Miles City, to Glendive, to Libby. The farm bill offers opportunities for Montanans of all walks of life.

The same is true all across America. Our farm policy contributes to security in American agriculture, and that is why we spend less on food than any other country in the world. We spend less than any other developed country in the world. Americans spend less than 7 percent of their disposable income to feed their families. That compares with almost 25 percent in 1930.

Our producers put food on tables around the world. In 2012, agricultural exports reached $136 billion, with a surplus of $32 billion--literally growing wealth from our fertile soils.

Like any small business owner, farmers and ranchers all across Montana tell me the No. 1 thing they want is certainty. Operating under short-term extensions leaves millions of Americans' agricultural jobs stuck in limbo. Farmers and ranchers need certainty they can take to the bank. That is why they need this 5-year farm bill. If we can get this bill passed, we are on the road to moving away from these short-term extensions--which do no one any good--and moving to longer term legislation which does everybody a lot more good. I hope we can get this bill passed, it is so important.

I yield the floor.


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