There’s a lot on the table for farm bill conference members to work through and many differences between the House and Senate bills. But conference committee leaders on both sides agreed on one thing — the urgent need to provide stability for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
In prepared opening statements in the first full committee meeting this morning, Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said certainty and predictability are “paramount to many other issues and concerns.”
“It is not an exaggeration to say our nation’s food and fiber production hangs in the balance with what we do here on this legislation. Time is of the essence,” he said.
“All of agriculture is struggling, not just one or two commodities. We must have a farm bill that works across our great nation,” he said.
“The goal, the responsibility, the absolute requirement is to provide farmers, ranchers, growers and everyone within America’s agriculture and food value chain certainty and predictability during these very difficult times,” he said.
Conference committee members must commit to making tough choices and compromising to find common ground to develop the best bill possible under the circumstance. They are very close, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, he said.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said the country is in the fifth year of a severe recession in farm country, and it doesn’t appear to be letting up any time soon.
Net farm income is expected to drop another 13 percent this year and farm bankruptcies are up 39 percent in the last two years alone, he said.
“While the farm bill covers a wide array of important policies, I submit that it is the primary job of this conference committee to provide … the predictability and stability of a farm safety net,” he said.
There are certainly areas of disagreement that stretch beyond the nutrition title, but the House is willing and able to come to consensus with the Senate, he said.
“The good news is I have seen no disagreement that should prevent us from completing a strong farm bill on time,” he said. The current farm bill expires at the end of September.
Collin Peterson, D-Minn., House Agriculture Committee ranking member, said the conference committee has one goal — to get a farm bill done.
“Farmers are counting on it. We’ve all seen the statistics on the decline of the farm economy, on their struggles with regard to trade, the news of volatile weather and the range of challenges they face,” he said.
Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member, said it’s tough times in the agriculture economy.
“Commodity prices are low, trade disruptions are creating uncertainty and farmers are struggling,” she said.
Despite important differences in the Senate and House bills, “one thing we all agree on is the urgent need to pass a five-year farm bill,” she said.