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Chairman Roberts Considers Trade, Specialty Crops, Organics Perspectives

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today held a hearing, titled, “Opportunities in Global and Local Markets, Specialty Crops, and Organics: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill.”

This marks the sixth hearing in preparation for the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization.

To provide input for the Senate Agriculture Committee’s consideration for the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization, click here. The link will be active for five business days after the hearing.

Click here to watch Chairman Roberts' opening statement. Below are Chairman Roberts’ remarks as prepared for delivery:

Over the last several months we have been laying the groundwork for a new Farm Bill.

As Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have repeatedly said we must listen to our farmers and ranchers first, and that is exactly what Senator Stabenow and I have been doing – and we will continue to do.

We are well into the process of collecting the advice and counsel of farmers, ranchers, and growers— those for whom this Farm Bill is meant to work, and we will continue to conduct a thorough review of the Farm Bill programs that provide certainty to those across the country who are facing tough economic times.

In these tight budgetary circumstances, we have no choice but to find ways to do more with less, to make every dollar count when seeking to provide assistance to producers.

Throughout this process, there is one word that I am hearing in nearly every Farm Bill hearing, summit, meeting, or roundtable…and that is Trade.

After working on six Farm Bills, I can tell you that each one is unique. But one thing has not changed.

Whether you are an apple grower in Washington, a dairy farmer in Wisconsin, or a cattle rancher in Texas, you need a strong and reliable market to sell what you produce.

That is the benefit of Farm Bill trade programs.  With an excellent return on investment, these public-private partnerships help the full range of producers, from commodities to specialty crops. 

Programs like the Market Access Program, or MAP, allow producers to partner with USDA to market and promote their products to all corners of the globe.

For example, in 2015 the California Walnut Commission used MAP funds to support efforts in India to promote the health benefits of walnuts. In that year, shipments to India increased tenfold.

Another Farm Bill export program, the Foreign Market Development Program, partners the Foreign Agricultural Service and U.S. agriculture cooperators to promote U.S. commodities overseas.

In Egypt, the U.S. Wheat Associates have utilized the Foreign Market Development program to promote U.S. hard red spring wheat to be used as a pasta ingredient. As a result, an Egyptian food and beverage company imported 30,000 metric tons of hard red spring wheat in 2015 and 2016.

There are countless examples demonstrating the benefit U.S. agriculture receives through partnerships with Farm Bill export programs, and the variety of agriculture industries tapping into these programs has continued to grow. We’ll hear today from the beef and potato sectors, but there are many others such as cotton, dairy, poultry, rice, sunflowers, citrus, lumber, sorghum, dry beans, and corn, just to name a few.

As I’ve said in past hearings, we have our work cut out for us with this next reauthorization.

We will need to find ways to do more with less, to reduce burdens of over-regulation, and ask tough questions as we reexamine programs to determine their effectiveness and if they are serving their intended purpose.  

There are 39 programs from the 2014 Farm Bill that do not have a baseline after Fiscal Year 2018.  The Foreign Market Development program and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program fall under that category.

More and more, we are facing barriers to trade from other countries.  In addition to developing and growing new markets, these programs play an important role in helping U.S. producers compete on the proverbial level playing field.

In addition, some changes need to be made to ensure that our organic producers are competing on that level playing field, and that our own regulations and processes are not holding people back. 

A recent Washington Post article highlighted the issue of fraudulent organic imports, but my constituents in Kansas brought this issue to my attention a year ago.  We pushed the Department of Agriculture to do something then, and it is clear that if it takes this long to get action, something needs to change. 

As I continue to repeat, with this tight budgetary environment, we need to ensure that over-regulation and antiquated government processes are not preventing businesses from succeeding. 

Farmers in rural America can choose organics, not necessarily because they believe there is anything wrong with conventional production, but because they recognize organics as a value-added opportunity.  They are responding to a market signal and increasing their margins. 

However, it seems that uncertainty and dysfunction have overtaken the National Organic Standards Board and the regulations associated with the National Organic Program. 

These problems create an unreliable regulatory environment and prevent farmers that choose organics from utilizing advancements in technology and operating their businesses in an efficient and effective manner.  Simply put, this hurts producers and economies in rural America.

I look forward to hearing about these issues and learning from those that have first-hand experience in the successes of Farm Bill trade programs and the challenges associated with outdated processes.