Fort Report: The Farm Bill
This week the House and Senate passed a new Farm Bill with a very strong bipartisan vote. For a lot of Americans, it’s easy to overlook this accomplishment. Our grocery bills are the lowest in the world, food is readily available, and our safety net is well considered. It comes down to this: The vastness of our land, the quality of our soil, and the gritty ingenuity of our farmers are the foundation that have given America prosperity, stability, and economic vitality.
The Farm Bill provides risk-management tools to maximize this natural gift, allowing farmers and ranchers to provide food security for our country. Its nutrition programs, as well as food assistance to millions of others around the world, protect those in vulnerable circumstances. The bill fosters conservation practices that enhance soil protection and wildlife habitat; and I am pleased by the increases in the number of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program. The bill ensures that America continues to lead the world in agricultural innovation, food safety, and renewable fuels.
Beginning farmers and local food producers are big winners in the Farm Bill. I am encouraged by the growing interest our young people see in agricultural opportunity. We are witnessing a food culture awakening with local chefs, farmers markets, and a keen interest in eating local. This Farm Bill helps these next-generation farmers and food entrepreneurs through new resources and training. The expanded Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) accelerates the “farm-to-fork” movement across America, connecting local farmers with consumers and restaurants. This offers a big opportunity for Nebraska.
I am happy that my provisions to enhance the Farmer to Farmer program made it into the final package. For over thirty years, the Farmer to Farmer program has connected volunteer American farmers, agriculture extension experts, and others with deep knowledge of the ag industry with farmers abroad. From dairy production to seed selection, entomology, irrigation, crop yield improvement, and farm credit, America’s farmers help others around the globe. The sharing of America’s ag expertise dramatically enhances the capacity of peoples elsewhere to grow their own food—contributing to worldwide food security, community well-being, and human flourishing.
We worked very hard to address a major problem—the high cost of health insurance for farmers. The Rural Health Insurance Act passed the House but did not make it through the Senate. We hear frequently from our farmers that some pay upwards of $30,000 or more annually for health insurance. These high costs have deeply affected farm families. We will continue to seek opportunities in the next Congress to address the thorny problem of broken insurance markets.
In Nebraska, agriculture is central to our economic well-being, our way of life, our culture. Our land grant universities help ensure that we maintain our tremendous productivity in the agriculture sector. The Farm Bill is a once-every-five-year piece of legislation. The birth of such legislation is neither easy nor smooth. But it is finally done.
For Nebraskans, the Farm Bill is not just another bill out of Washington. Like the rhythms of planting and sowing, it is an expected rite of legislative passage essential to who we are as a people.