For the second time in as many years the US Senate has passed a Farm Bill. In 2012 Indiana was represented on the Senate Ag Committee by Richard Lugar. This time around it was Hoosier freshman Senator Joe Donnelly who sat on the Ag committee. During his campaign, Donnelly made it clear he wanted to be on the Senate Ag Committee and after election he worked hard to gather input from Indiana farm groups about Farm Bill policy. Thus it was a very proud Donnelly who voted yes on the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013. In an op-ed story, Donnelly talked about his first Farm Bill experience as a Senator (he worked on the “08 Farm bill as a Congressman).
Indiana has a proud agricultural tradition. Nearly 190,000 Hoosiers work in agriculture on the 83% of our state’s land devoted to farms or forests. In 2011 alone, $38 billion dollars of Indiana’s economy came from the hard work of our Hoosier farmers. For these reasons and more, it is crucial for Indiana’s ag community, and for our entire state’s economy and well-being, that Congress reach an agreement on a long-term farm bill.
On Monday night, the Senate passed a five-year farm bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I worked hard to make sure this legislation reflected many of the ideas I heard directly from Indiana’s ag community.
The legislation we passed would give farmers the certainty they deserve and the resources they need to make long-term decisions about their crops. It would also make the government more efficient by increasing accountability and eliminating duplicative or unnecessary programs. We made the tough decisions necessary to cut spending, and this bill would reduce the deficit by $23 billion as we continue our efforts to get our fiscal house in order.
While no bill is perfect, there are a few areas of this bill I worked to improve based on feedback from Hoosiers. During committee debate, I introduced an amendment with Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) that would provide the next generation of bioenergy crops access to base levels of risk management, so that a reasonable safety net would be in place for energy crops. This amendment would amend the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program to offer coverage for crops producing feedstock for energy purposes. Further, the amendment would direct the USDA to research and develop risk management tools for promising new sorghum crops. This amendment was included in the legislation that passed the Senate.
Also, I helped introduce an amendment that would help ensure that Hoosier famers have access to the technical assistance they need to implement good conservation practices. Hoosier famers know that proper conservation techniques increase yields, mitigate drought, and protect the quality of our land. My amendment would streamline the delivery of technical assistance programs to better reflect the unique needs of our local communities.
Finally, I continued my efforts from the 2008 Farm Bill to ensure that there are no restrictions on Hoosier farmers who want to grow fruits and vegetables. After a successful Farm Flex pilot program, I worked to expand full planting flexibility for farmers in Indiana and across the country, so they can grow what they’d like on their own farms.
The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 is a common sense bill, and I’m pleased to see it pass the Senate. It’s an example of both parties working together to do good things for our economy. Now, it is the House of Representatives’ turn. It is my hope that Congress can come to an agreement and pass a farm bill in order to protect the approximately 16 million ag-related jobs nationwide. No one is going to get everything they want, but we need a five-year farm bill to give American farmers the ability to plan. Farmers in Indiana and across our great nation deserve more than the partisan, political gridlock that prevented a five-year farm bill from getting done last year.