One Size Fits All Farm Program Won't Work

Opening farm bill remarks by Sen. Saxby Chambliss at the Senate Ag Committee meeting voice key concerns of Southern Senators.

Published on: Apr 27, 2012

The nay votes to the 2012 Farm Bill version that the Senate Ag Committee sent to the full Senate today came mainly from the South, to get a better idea of the issues involved, below is the statement from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who laid out the key issues that will be worked through by the full Senate. Here's his opening statement:

Today we are here at the agriculture committee to once again reauthorize the farm bill.  As a former chairman and ranking member of this distinguished committee, I understand how difficult it is to combine all the diverse interests into legislation that meets the needs of all the Members around this table.  This bill before us is no exception.

SOUTHERN DISSENTER: Concerns about the new farm bill have raised the ire of Southern lawmakers. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., offered an opening statement in Thursdays Senate Ag Committee hearing that helps understand the key concerns. (Photos from Chambliss Senate website).
SOUTHERN DISSENTER: Concerns about the new farm bill have raised the ire of Southern lawmakers. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., offered an opening statement in Thursday's Senate Ag Committee hearing that helps understand the key concerns. (Photos from Chambliss Senate website).

I think we all can agree the farm bill needs to provide an effective safety net that farmers and ranchers can rely on in times of need.  Agricultural producers face a combination of challenges, such as unpredictable weather, variable input costs, and market volatility that combined determine profit or loss in any given year.  The 2008 farm bill has been providing a strong safety net program for producers over the last four years, and I believe that successive legislation must adhere and honor the same commitment we made four years ago to our ranchers and producers.

At the same time, I believe the agriculture sector can contribute its fair share to deficit reduction and the bill before us provides significant savings in mandatory spending programs.  However, all sectors of this agricultural bill must contribute its fair share and the key is to do this in an equitable and fair manner.

I have participated in the writing of four farm bills as a Member of Congress.  None have been easy

and each bill has had its unique challenges and opportunities.  Balancing the needs and interest of all of agriculture requires patience, fairness, and a willingness to work with all members of this committee.  It is very important we recognize the unique differences between the geographical regions and the commodities grown in those regions.

As the international agriculture markets become more complex worldwide, we must be mindful that a one size fits all program will not work for U.S. agriculture with regions more diverse than ever before.  We need to recognize this diversity by providing producers with different options to confront the marketing and regional differences that define our country.  Washington does not always know best. 

Right now, the bill before us fails this test.  It is neither equitable nor fair and attempts to redistribute resources from one region to another.  After deducting a share for deficit reduction, certain commodities receive more resources than others and crops such as peanuts and rice are left without a safety net.

We have read reports and analyses illustrating the lopsidedness of the bill.  Among the biggest losers in the budget baseline are wheat, barley, grain sorghum, rice, cotton, and peanuts.  We should not convince ourselves that this will not cause enormous negative consequences for many regions of the country.  Put simply, by making the bill more conducive for certain crops at the expense of the many, this bill lacks balance. 

Some will say that planting shifts are responsible for much of the change in budget baseline.  That is in part true.  But it does not take away the injury that would be inflicted on particular regions of the country nor does it tell the whole story.  By squeezing all crops into a program specially designed for one or two crops, this bill will force many growers to switch to those crops in order to have an effective safety net.  Isn’t this the very planting distortion caused by farm policy that we ought to avoid?

But there is another very egregious problem with this bill:  the safety net will not be there when farmers truly need it.  Whether offered on an on-farm or area -wide basis, a narrow 10 percent band of revenue protection will not help farmers should crop prices collapse.  Under this bill, a farmer has an 11 percent deductible, with the next 10 percent of losses covered, however many farmers may be totally exposed to a plunge in crop prices that hits the proposed loan rates.  These proposed loan rates are set so low that if prices reach that point the farmer will be out of business.   Yes, crop insurance can cover the production side of the risk if you can afford to buy higher coverage but it does not cover consecutive year-to-year low prices.  Even the 10 percent revenue band the bill provides has significant problems since the revenue guarantee is based on the previous five year's price and production which may not be sufficient to provide an effective safety net. 

This is wrong, and for this and my concerns over the process that led us here, I am not likely to support this bill.

In spite of this, I do need to recognize the Chair and Ranking Member for including a new crop insurance program that complies with our international commitments.

As a former Chairman and Ranking Member of this Committee, I have always been committed to find a solution to the WTO Brazil Case.  I authored legislation in 2005 and again in 2008 that made significant changes in the cotton and export programs to bring us into compliance with our international commitments.  We eliminated the Step 2 program; we reformed the cotton marketing loan program and reduced the cotton counter-cyclical program unilaterally and in good faith.

We find ourselves again significantly reforming the cotton safety net with the Stacked Income Protection Plan for Users of Upland Cotton (STAX).  The program in this bill is a significant departure from what is available to other covered commodities and hopefully will resolve the WTO dispute with Brazil.  My hope now is that our Brazilian friends will engage in a real and meaningful way to put this issue behind us.

The farm bill in front of us attempts to shoehorn all producers into a one-size-fits-all policy.  I do not believe this is equitable to my producers.   Producer choice is the better course to follow and I regret the commodity title does not recognize this priority.

Let us remember, that at the end of day, the reason we are here is to represent the hard working men and women who work the land each and every day to provide the highest quality agricultural food and products in the world.  I believe we have the opportunity to write a bill that can be equal to their commitment in providing the food, feed and fiber that allows us to be the greatest nation on Earth.  But right now, what this committee lacks is the willingness to do so.

I look forward to the forthcoming debate.