U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
Today, we mark the one-year anniversary of President Trump signing into law the 2018 Farm Bill, the Agriculture Act of 2018.
Lots of folks said we couldn’t do it, that it was too big of an undertaking in such a fiercely divided political landscape, where bipartisanship has become a four-letter word.
Rural America was counting on us, and we couldn’t let our opportunity – our duty – to provide a level of certainty and predictability slip through our fingers.
I shudder to think of the state of farm country had the 2018 Farm Bill not been signed into law last year. With low farm prices and trade uncertainty, these are not the best of times in rural America. With the Farm Bill in place, farmers and ranchers are undoubtedly better off.
As we prepared to write the Farm Bill, we started by listening. We listened to producers in Kansas, Michigan, Alabama, Montana, and of course, Washington. At every hearing on every title of the Farm Bill, we welcomed and heeded public comments from across the country.
Farmers told us to make sure their export markets remain intact, so we protected and invested in export programs, like the Market Access Program, the Foreign Market Development Program, the Emerging Markets Program, and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program.
Farmers wanted to see new and exciting agricultural research to make farming more efficient and sustainable, so we invested over $600 million in new research, in addition to maintaining the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.
Animal agriculture producers said they needed more peace of mind that their herds and flocks will be better protected from a devastating and deadly disease outbreak. So, we created the Animal Disease Prevention and Management Program to improve how we protect against, prepare for, and respond to animal and zoonotic disease outbreaks.
Steady as a drum, I heard from farm country, “Do no harm to crop insurance.” I’m proud to say we not only protected the farmer’s most important safety net, but we also strengthened the crop insurance program by encouraging private sector innovation of policies.
Rural America deserves to be connected. That’s why we allowed USDA to fund projects that deploy high-speed broadband throughout rural America.
Many farmers are looking to diversify their crops, so we made sure that hemp will be an option for more farmers in the 2020 growing season.
Unfortunately, much of agriculture has fallen on hard times. We cannot afford to lose any more hard-working farmers to the stress of farming in this economy. That’s why we established the Farm and Ranch Stress Network – to provide farmers with resources for mental health treatment.
On the nutrition side, we have a duty to lend a helping hand to those in need. People want to work. That’s why we included changes to improve the matching of SNAP recipients’ skills to available jobs in the workforce.
Taxpayers also want to know that their dollars are not going to waste, so we eliminated the easily and often-manipulated state performance bonuses for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), saving the American taxpayer nearly $500 million.
The Farm Bill is not often seen as one of Congress’ bright, shiny objects, but it affects every single American.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to remind everyone that the 2018 Farm Bill received the most Senate votes for any farm bill in history – 87-13. Those numbers are unheard of these days. But we did it, because we listened and worked together.
Now, federal agencies are in the process of implementing the Farm Bill through the rulemaking process. We’ve held a handful of hearings to learn about the bill’s implementation. Good progress has been made thus far, and I want rural America to know that we are still working for you.
We have much to accomplish for our farmers, ranchers, and growers in 2020, and I’ll continue to need your input.
About the author: The 2018 Farm Bill was Senator Roberts’ eighth farm bill. Roberts is the first member of congress in modern history to serve as Chairman of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. He is serving in his third congress as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.