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Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Kansas Farm Bill Field Hearing

MANHATTAN, KAN. – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at the field hearing at Kansas State University entitled: Hearing from the Heartland: Perspectives on the 2018 Farm Bill from Kansas.

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Good afternoon, I am very pleased to be here in the great Sunflower State with Chairman Roberts and I am looking forward to this hearing.

In the coming weeks, I look forward to hosting you, Mr. Chairman, for a Farm Bill field hearing at my alma mater Michigan State University.

I want to start this hearing by sincerely thanking Chairman Roberts for his years of leadership on issues important to American agriculture. Chairman Roberts and I have had a great working relationship.

And often despite great odds, we have gotten a lot done.

He’s one of the hardest working members of Congress.  After all, he is a Marine. Let me tell you – nothing says honor, courage and commitment like battling through more than 70 amendments together to get a bipartisan Farm Bill across the finish line in the Senate last time!

Kansas has a noteworthy history of Senators creating great legislative partnerships to advance and support American agriculture and food policy.

Many of you know the name Senator Arthur Capper as the author of the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922 which authorized the creation of agricultural cooperatives.

We all know the legendary partnership of Senator Bob Dole and George McGovern and their important work to fight hunger.

I look forward to continuing the legacy of partnerships with a great Senator from Kansas as we work together on the 2018 Farm Bill.

Looking back at the last Farm Bill, many people thought we would never get it done. The process was long and took an unconventional path. We faced a tough budget situation and we had to make hard choices.

But we never lost sight of who we needed to serve. With 16 million American jobs relating to food and agriculture, it was our priority to support our farmers and ranchers, ensure consumers had access to affordable, nutritious food; and advocate for small towns and rural communities.

Despite all the challenges we faced, we accomplished a lot in the last Bill, by reforming commodity programs and supporting new risk management tools, providing permanent funding for three livestock disaster programs, creating new opportunities for voluntary conservation, and streamlining nearly 100 different programs.

These historic reforms saved billions and protected the integrity of critical safety net programs like crop insurance.

I am also proud of the work that Senator Roberts and I did together to create new partnerships to fund innovative agricultural research through the creation of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.

As we start to work on the next Farm Bill, we know that the farm economy is not where we want it to be.

Low prices have pinched margins and made it tough for many producers to make ends meet. And we have heard from many producers that we need to take a hard look at our dairy and cotton programs.

I think our Senate Agriculture Committee members agree that we should focus on the needs of farmers and rural communities in the next Farm Bill, not arbitrary cuts. It is clear to me that there are important needs we should address.

Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the Farm Bill is projected to save $80 billion more than initially expected, largely driven by lower crop insurance costs and reduced spending on nutrition as people find jobs and no longer need help.

But we face a budgetary challenge of finding funds for 37 key programs that don’t have a budget baseline – including programs that support beginning farmers, ranchers and veterans, food access, rural development, and the emerging bio-based economy.

And just this week, more than 500 groups—from every part of the farm and food sector—came to together to reject calls for additional cuts to Farm Bill programs including crop insurance, nutrition and conservation. 

We know the Farm Bill is doing more than its fair share to reduce the deficit. Any further cuts would be made at the detriment of farmers and families.

In this new Congress, we face a political climate unlike any other, but if there’s anyone who can pass a comprehensive bipartisan piece of legislation, it is the Senate Agriculture Committee. I like to think that our Committee is unique.

Our interests are rooted in bipartisanship because we share the goals of supporting our nation’s farmers and ranchers who produce the world’s safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply.

Writing a Farm Bill is no simple task. And we certainly can’t do it alone, which is why we are here today.

This is the first of many hearings we will conduct to get feedback from farmers and ranchers, as well as the many people and organizations who have a stake in the outcome of farm and food policy.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to hear from you.

We were able to get this done last time thanks to the support and input we received and the broad coalition that came together to support our comprehensive, bipartisan bill.

Agriculture needs a big tent coalition of farmers, ranchers, commodity groups, rural economic development and food access advocates, bio energy leaders and conservationists working together.

So today, I look forward to learning about your priorities. What is working? What should we focus on to improve? How should we do that?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

With that, I’ll turn it back to you, Mr. Chairman.