As Conferees Convene, Priorities for a Farm Bill

By Beacon Staff

While rural Americans have already waited too long for passage of a new Food, Farm and Jobs bill, last week brought a promising new development. Conferees from the Senate and House met to begin work on the creation of a bipartisan, long-term Farm Bill. Their work could not be more timely – and they are in the spotlight now more than ever before.

The Farm Bill is crucial to America’s farmers, ranchers and producers. It provides a necessary safety net for producers centered around a strong crop insurance program and a dependable set of disaster assistance programs. The last two years of drought and other weather-related disasters underscores how important that safety net is to keeping producers in business.

The Farm Bill’s importance extends beyond the farm safety net.

It’s a research bill that continues our long history of agricultural innovation. The Senate-passed Farm Bill would authorize a new, non-profit research foundation, allowing the USDA to more effectively leverage millions of dollars in private investment toward agricultural research.

The Farm Bill is a conservation bill that would support a record number of producers who are investing in efforts to conserve our soil, water and air; while ombating the impacts of a changing climate.

The Farm Bill is a trade promotion bill that would assist our farmers and ranchers to export a record amount of product around the world. A new Farm Bill, by resolving a trade dispute with Brazil over cotton supports, would avoid up to $850 million in retaliatory measures that Brazil is authorized to levy against a wide range of American goods and services.

The Farm Bill is a job creation bill that would empower USDA to partner with rural communities to grow, expand and support new businesses, including new opportunities in biobased product manufacturing and renewable energy.

The Farm Bill is a deficit reduction bill that would reform the farm safety net – replacing direct payments with a program that provides farmers help when they need it and saves billions of dollars.

The Farm Bill is a nutrition bill that would adequately protect those among us who need help putting good food on the table – an effort that is critical for millions of hardworking families, senior citizens, persons with disabilities and returning veterans.

The Farm Bill truly impacts every American. It’s no surprise to me that over the course of this fall, President Barack Obama has identified passage of a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as one of his top three legislative priorities. Congress has a crucial opportunity to grow the economy, create jobs and reduce the deficit by working out a compromise and getting this legislation done.

The president believes that no political party has a monopoly on good ideas and he looks forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to get this done. For decades, the Farm Bill has stood as a model of such bipartisan consensus – and I urge conferees from the House and Senate to follow this tradition and move forward a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs bill as rapidly as possible.

Tom Vilsack is the U.S. secretary of agriculture.