Mike Conaway, Ted Yoho and Neal Dunn: Input from the field needed for farm bill
Take a step back and listen.
That’s important advice to anyone working in Washington, but especially to those of us fortunate enough to represent our friends and neighbors in the halls of Congress.
And nowhere does that ring clearer than within the agricultural community. With less than 2 percent of Americans directly involved in production agriculture, the few caretakers of our land and natural resources are a critical source of knowledge about what is and isn’t working in U.S. agricultural policy.
President Eisenhower said it best, ”... farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” You need to get in the field and hear from those who know.
That’s why on Saturday, we’re trading in our suits and ties for jeans and boots to join several other members of the House Agriculture Committee for a listening session with the farmers, ranchers and stakeholders throughout the region who have a vested interest in the next farm bill.
We don’t need to tell Florida farmers and ranchers that times have been tough. With net farm income dropping by 50 percent over the past four years, the agricultural economy has experienced the largest four-year percentage drop since the Great Depression. Now, more than ever, we need a farm bill to address the concerns facing production agriculture and all of rural America.
So we’re looking to Florida and its neighbors for help.
Writing the farm bill is a big task, with a lot of moving parts — and it’s vitally important we get the policy right. The bill includes the risk management tools that are critical to helping farmers and ranchers endure tough economic times. It includes voluntary, incentive-based assistance to aid farmers in conserving and improving our water, air and wildlife habitat. It supports research to ensure that our farmers and ranchers are able to produce more with less. And it includes vital nutrition assistance for our most vulnerable citizens.
We’ve eliminated planting restrictions — farmers can grow whatever the market demands, including nutritious fruits and vegetables. There are now more than 100 crops — including virtually all specialty crops — that are eligible for federal crop insurance, something vitally important to Florida. And, we’ve vastly increased our support for specialty crop research through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
These policies are essential to maintaining the vibrant agricultural economy Florida has come to depend upon. Florida provides the country with an abundance of products, including fruits, vegetables, peanuts, sugarcane, cotton and nursery products. The state leads the nation in the production of oranges, ranks second in vegetable production and Florida’s beef cattle industry is among the oldest and largest in the country. It is also the home to a number of well-respected colleges and universities where agricultural research and extension programs remain a top priority, including the University of Florida and Florida A&M University, both land-grant universities.
So we speak for the whole committee when we say we are eager for the input of Florida’s producers and stakeholders. We want to know what policy changes would benefit you and your industry, and believe it is essential we ensure all commodities and stakeholders have a seat at the table to express their ideas for improvements, understanding the serious budget constraints we face as a country.
Ultimately, we’re committed to providing Americans with a strong farm bill. Our U.S. agriculture community is as wide and diverse as its citizens, with each sector facing different challenges and opportunities. Every group has its own story to tell and a unique stake in the policy. Yet, the thing that unites us is the understanding that agriculture is important to every American and is vital to feeding and clothing our nation and the world.
— U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, and Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Panama City, are members of the House Agriculture Committee and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is chairman.