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Column - Trading Pencils for Plows


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President Dwight Eisenhower once said, "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field." Eisenhower's statement holds true decades later, particularly for those putting pencil to paper in Washington. It is easy for politicians to take for granted the long hours, loving labor, and quiet courage of American farmers.

From the rural reaches of the panhandle to the city blocks of Omaha, Nebraskans understand the vital role of agriculture as our state's number one industry. Even as the United States leads the world in producing food, feed, fuel, and fiber, we must continue to improve and update our agriculture policy to ensure ongoing success.

I am pleased to report that on June 10th, the Senate voted to provide some certainty for the agriculture community and for Nebraska's economy by passing a bipartisan, five-year farm bill.

This legislation reflects the modern needs of an ancient industry. It provides a safety net for America's farmers through disaster assistance programs; it promotes environmental stewardship and encourages rural development; it bolsters export opportunities and advances cutting-edge research; and it helps new farmers and ranchers trying to start businesses of their own.

To assist Nebraska's nearly 47,000 farms and ranches facing the persistent challenges of drought, flooding, and fires, it is critical to invest in risk management tools. I appreciate that this farm bill maintains and strengthens the crop insurance program. In 2012, over 15.6 million acres of land in Nebraska were protected by crop insurance, which in turn secured nearly 7,500 Nebraska jobs.

Crop insurance is a public-private partnership that ensures our farmers have the ability to produce year after year, despite growing seasons in which crops fail. While critics have tried to mischaracterize the crop insurance program, it is important to remember that farmers must purchase a policy, absorb the policy's deductible, and suffer a verifiable loss before any payment is collected.

In 2012 alone, farmers paid $4.1 billion out of their own pockets to purchase crop insurance policies. In addition, they shouldered $12.7 billion in losses as part of their crop insurance policy deductibles. Without the risk protection provided by federal crop insurance, demand would increase for supplemental disaster assistance. Such federal aid would be paid for entirely by the taxpayer, whereas crop insurance requires farmers to help shoulder the burden of relief.

While I supported these sensible measures within the farm bill to bolster agriculture, I was troubled by the imbalance within the legislation's $18 billion in cuts. Approximately 80 percent of the spending in the bill -- more than $760 billion over the next 10 years -- is for nutrition programs, mainly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite the overwhelming focus of the spending, the Senate bill cuts $4 billion from SNAP, which contains a number of loopholes and duplicative programs ripe for the budgetary ax. At the same time, agriculture, which comprises a mere fifth of the total spending, absorbed $14 billion in cuts.

I voted for several amendments to achieve further savings in the nutrition title by eliminating these loopholes and unnecessary programs. Unfortunately, the amendments did not prevail. I will continue to support efforts to eliminate wasteful spending as Congress continues the legislative process.

The bill now awaits action by the House of Representatives, which is expected to consider similar legislation in the coming weeks. It is likely that a conference committee will be required to reconcile the two versions of the bill before it can be sent to the president.

Families across America invest time, resources, energy, and faith toward the goal of providing the Nation and the world safe, abundant, and affordable products. As their hard work continues, I am hopeful that Congress will work quickly and cooperatively to advance appropriate policies to assist America's farmers and ranchers in meeting the needs of our growing global economy.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

Deb Fischer
United States Senator

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