WASHINGTON – Members of the U.S. Senate continue to review the nation’s agricultural policies in a long-running effort to craft a new farm bill.
The Senate Agriculture, Food and Forestry Committee held its first hearing of the new Congress on Wednesday to discuss proposed legislation on agribusiness and horticulture, as well as measures to protect America’s farmers.
The agriculture bill is a broad measure containing provisions related to commodities, conservation, nutrition programs and rural development. Congress last passed a farm bill in December 2018. The current law expires at the end of this September, although lawmakers can extend the law if legislative work is not completed.
“This is an important time for American agriculture,” said Arkansas Sen. John Bozeman, R-Rogers, as he welcomed members of the recall committee.
“Together, I believe we can shape the policies needed to protect the world’s safe, abundant and most affordable food supply while protecting the land, water, air, wildlife and rural communities we all care about.”
Bozeman continues his tenure as the committee’s top Republican from the last Congress and will play a key role in crafting the next farm bill.
Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, has been chairing the committee. She announced in early January that she plans to retire from Congress after her current term ends in January 2025.
“Ranking Member Bozeman and I know we have a big job ahead of us, and we’re working together to pass the next farm bill with strong bipartisan support,” she said. “I’m confident that this committee will do its job to make that happen.”
The committee began its review of the current law last April with a field hearing at Michigan State University in East Lansing. A similar hearing was held in June at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. A hearing was held on Capitol Hill on rural development and agricultural research.
Lawmakers used Wednesday’s hearing to discuss specialty crops and US agricultural export programs. The review comes amid a challenging year for consumers and producers due to inflation and rising production costs.
“The only saving grace for many farmers was relatively high commodity prices, and supporting those high prices was an increase in agricultural exports,” Bozeman said.
According to Alexis Taylor, Secretary of Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs of the US Department of Agriculture, agricultural products in the last fiscal year exceeded 196 billion dollars, which is 14 percent higher than the previous year.
“While these numbers are impressive, what’s even more impressive is the impact those exports have on our producers and their rural communities,” Taylor said. “United States agricultural exports support more than 1 million jobs here at home and contribute more than $154 billion in additional economic activity.”
Previous farm bills have included support for agricultural market development programs and export guarantee efforts that address barriers to entry for U.S. producers while providing overseas opportunities. USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Secretary Jenny Moffitt said the agency is pushing programs to help farmers and ranchers struggling to meet their financial needs.
“We know that small and medium-sized farmers have the most impact, and we know that there are still too many barriers for new and beginning farmers,” she said.
Arkansas leads the nation in rice exports; It accounts for 21 percent of the state’s $3.8 billion in agricultural exports. The Natural State is one of the leading countries in terms of exports of meat and cotton.
Bozeman asked Taylor about possible measures to protect rice and wheat farmers from Indian producers, citing the country’s “blatant” trade violations by banning rice and wheat exports. Taylor said officials are engaged in multilateral forums and are engaging with the World Trade Organization to address India’s policy.
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committee debated the farm bill last year. Republicans took control of the House in early January with many promises as part of their “Dedicated to America” agenda, including spending cuts. Some lawmakers have discussed reducing spending to fiscal year 2022 levels.
Speaking to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week, Bozeman said House committee chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pa. And ranking member David Scott, D-Ga., said he’s confident they’ll push to complete the farm bill.