Washington, DC— U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), a member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, took to the Senate floor today to discuss the Farm Bill. Johnson urged his colleagues to work together to pass the bill, which would give certainty to farmers, save taxpayers more than $23 billion over the next ten years and support millions of jobs.
A copy of his remarks is below, as prepared for delivery:
Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the critically important piece of legislation currently before the Senate: the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act. But first, I want to thank Senators Stabenow and Roberts for the great work they’ve done to get us to this point in the reauthorization process.
The bill as reported out of the Ag Committee saves taxpayers more than $23 billion over the next ten years and will support millions of jobs. With this bill, we are taking several important steps in making our farm support system more responsive to actual need rather than sending payments to producers no matter what they grow. We are long past due in eliminating direct payments. At the same time, we are maintaining a strong crop insurance program and creating a new system that makes assistance available to producers when they actually experience a loss.
Another important area of reform in this bill is payment limitations and ensuring that actual farmers receive payments. Senator Grassley and I have worked for years to lower the caps on our farm program payments and to direct payments to family farmers. The new Agriculture Risk Coverage program contains a cap of $50,000 and requires that program payment recipients contribute labor to the farm operation. Current law has enabled multiple farm managers in an operation to qualify for separate farm program payments with as little participation as one conference call a year. Not anymore under this bill. I am disappointed there have been amendments filed to weaken this language. I don’t understand how anyone can stand before this body and justify sending federal farm program payments to people who aren’t engaged in agriculture. Our country faces serious fiscal challenges, and it seems to me that limiting farm payments to real farmers is a reasonable concept. I urge my colleague to oppose efforts to weaken this language.
With this bill, we are also taking important steps to combine and streamline our conservation programs while still allowing us to continue meeting the same land, water, and wildlife goals. Additionally, this bill contains a sodsaver provision that will discourage the breaking of native sod for crop production.
One area of the bill with which I am disappointed is that it does not contain a livestock title. However, I have joined with some of my colleagues in filing amendments to give our independent livestock producers a fair shake in the marketplace. Along with Senator Grassley and others, I have worked for more than a decade to prohibit the ownership of livestock by the big meatpackers for more than 14 days prior to slaughter. Additionally, I’ve joined with Senator Enzi in filing an amendment to require more transparency in the use of forward contracts in the livestock markets. These are important provisions that I hope my colleagues will support.
I would also like to applaud the Committee’s work on the energy and rural development titles, which strengthen our rural economies. The Rural Development water and wastewater program has been a critical funding source to help alleviate a severe water infrastructure need on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation. I hope my colleagues will act favorably on Senator Brown’s amendment that I have cosponsored to bolster this and other rural development programs.
Finally, I would like to commend efforts to address the pine beetle epidemic in the forestry title of the bill. The underlying bill does good work to increase flexibility, and I support the efforts of Senator Mark Udall and others to increase the resources we are providing to the Forest Service to address this threat to our forest health and public safety.
Mr. President, I understand that the Ag Committee leaders and Senate leadership have been making progress in their negotiations towards an agreement on a path forward. I hope that we can avoid letting a small minority of Senators hold up progress on this bill. It’s time that we act, and that we give our producers certainty.