02.05.19

Chairman Roberts Discusses 2018 Farm Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today addressed the Farm Foundation on the opportunities and challenges in implementing the 2018 Farm Bill.

“At a time of shutdowns, when folks are more focused on playing politics than governing, the Ag Committees were successful in reaching agreement on a farm bill,” said Chairman Roberts. “This is what happens when the Congress works in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion. The 2018 Farm Bill that was signed by the President in December accomplishes what we set out to do – provide certainty and predictability for farmers, families, and rural communities.”

“As work begins to implement this new farm bill, I look forward to working with my friends Secretary Perdue, Deputy Secretary Censky, and the staff at USDA to ensure that all of these programs are operating as Congress intended.”

On December 11, 2018 the Senate passed the Farm Bill with a vote of 87-13. A day later, the House approved the bill 369-47. The President signed the Farm Bill into law on December 20. This is the second Farm Bill Senator Roberts has authored. Roberts is the only Member of Congress to hold the titles of both Senate and House Agriculture Committee Chairman and Ranking Member.

The following are Chairman Roberts’ remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thank you for the invitation to speak today. It is always an honor to speak with the Farm Foundation. As many of you know, the 2018 Farm Bill—the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018—is something that I’m very familiar with…in fact, I’m familiar with the last 8 farm bill debates.

I’m particularly glad that the Farm Foundation has convened the esteemed panel to discuss Farm Bill implementation today. That is the final step in any farm bill process…and, one that is not always examined and discussed.

Almost two years ago, in February of 2017, in Manhattan, Kansas, at Kansas State University, the journey began towards a new Farm Bill.

And, it started the way we should legislate…by listening directly to the needs of farmers and ranchers.

The Committee listened to more than 90 witnesses from around the country and received thousands of public comments as part of the Senate process. I traveled across the country—Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Alabama, Nebraska—to hear directly from growers.

And, the 2018 Farm Bill provides much needed certainty and predictability to farmers and ranchers across all regions and all crops – as promised.

The conference agreement included policy improvements from both the House-passed bill and the Senate bill. And it maintained as many priorities for members as possible. 

That inclusive approach is why the final bill got strong, bipartisan support in Congress. In fact, 87 ‘aye’ votes is the most ever seen for a Farm Bill in the U.S. Senate.

This Farm Bill meets the needs of producers across all regions and all crops. 

In the commodity title, the bill makes improvements to the Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage Programs, while providing a new election and future opportunities to change those decisions.

The Farm Bill also includes a nationwide PLC yield update and requires RMA crop insurance data as the primary source for ARC County yields.

The farm bill conference report rejected a provision that would have stripped acres not planted to a program crop of its eligibility. Instead, base acres and their future program eligibility are maintained. The ability to plant for the market, not the government, is one of the remaining components of Freedom to Farm from the 1996 Farm Bill.

Additionally, this Farm Bill strengthens and improves the crop insurance program.

It directs the Risk Management Agency to further improve crop insurance, by researching and developing policies for quality loss, grain sorghum, limited irrigation and efficient irrigation practices.

The Conservation Title maintained the core voluntary conservation programs that farmers and ranchers use to improve their productivity and address natural resource concerns.

The primary functions of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program were maintained, having heard the importance of from farmers and ranchers, time and time again, and increased the program’s annual funding level to over $2 billion annually.

To address base acres planted only to grass during 2009-2017, the new farm bill provides a conservation program to pay $18 per eligible acre on which producers voluntarily meet at least one conservation benefit. 

The bill also focuses on program integrity and commonsense investments to strengthen our nutrition programs to ensure the long-term success of those in need of assistance. 

And, with trade and market uncertainty, it provides certainty for our trade promotion and research programs.

Feeding an increasing global population is not simply an agriculture challenge, it is a national security challenge. 

This means producers need to grow more and raise more with fewer resources. That will take investments in research, new technology, lines of credit, and proper risk management. It takes the government providing tools, and then getting out of the producer’s way.

Finally, the Farm Bill provides regulatory certainty and assists livestock producers facing the threat of animal disease.

Throughout the farm bill process, we made tough choices, being judicious with the scarce resources we have on behalf of the taxpayer. 

At a time of shutdowns…when folks are more focused on playing politics than governing, the Ag Committees were successful in reaching agreement on a farm bill. 

This is what happens when the Congress works in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion. 

The 2018 Farm Bill that was signed by the President in December accomplishes what we set out to do – provide certainty and predictability for farmers, families, and rural communities. 

As work begins to implement this new farm bill, I look forward to working with my friends Secretary Perdue, Deputy Secretary Censky, and the staff at USDA to ensure that all of these programs are operating as Congress intended.

Over the last two years, USDA has been a part of the process—offering technical advice—throughout the drafting and conference stages. And, they are hard at work to move as quickly as possible.

It is especially comforting to know that seasoned and experienced folks like the Deputy Secretary—no stranger to farm bills—will be leading the implementation efforts at USDA. And, I am pleased that the Deputy Secretary is here today.

Quickly, before I finish my comments, I’d like to highlight and recognize the esteemed members of today’s panel.

Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh – Barry has long been a trusted ag policy adviser and friend for many of us.  He is a fixture at my alma mater, Kansas State University. And, I have no doubt that he will be candid in his remarks today

Tara Smith – Tara is a skilled champion for crop insurance. And, she has a variety of experience to contribute to today’s conversation, including time working on the Senate Agriculture Committee during the last farm bill

Alan Bjerga – Be sure to save plenty of questions for Alan. In his previous role as an ag reporter, Alan always had plenty of questions for me. He now advocates on behalf of the National Milk Producers Federation and has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share today.

Needless to say, I think this will be a fascinating and lively panel discussion. 

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Meghan Cline