Opening Statements

Opening Statement: General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee Chairman Rick Crawford: Agricultural Act of 2014: Commodity Policy & Crop Insurance

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Washington, DC, March 26, 2015 | comments

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

I want to welcome our witnesses, Administrator Willis and Administrator Dolcini.  Thank you for being here, gentlemen, and thank you for all of the good work that you have done so far in implementing the Farm Bill.

By Tuesday of next week, most farmers from across the country will have made the choices that we offered them under the Farm Bill.  This will be the capstone on a long and challenging process that began here in 2010 before I was even elected and did not wrap up until February 7, 2014, when the farm bill was finally signed into law.

While the 2014 farm bill was drafted during a period of record-high prices, producers are now experiencing a staggering 43 percent drop in net farm income.  Current conditions are going to test the Farm Bill and its ability to mitigate and respond to growing financial stress in farm country. I firmly believe that the situation calls for the Farm Bill to be implemented in the most farmer-friendly manner possible within the limits of the law.

The good news is that, despite some bumps along the way, both of you have worked overtime to ensure that the provisions of the Farm Bill are implemented in the best way possible for the farmers and ranchers it was intended to serve.  And we thank you for your hard work. However, some serious issues remain that we hope can still be avoided, and we believe you have the power to head them off.

Each member around this dais probably has an example of problems his or her constituent’s face that can be averted through proper implementation.  And I have three that I hope we can solve together.

First, USDA has the authority to address an issue that is impacting all cotton marketing, whether through cooperatives, private merchants, or direct farmer marketing. The situation threatens to seriously erode support for cotton farmers when that support is already threadbare and chronically low prices continue to pose an existential threat to farming cotton in the United States. In Arkansas alone, cotton acreage is expected to be down 40 percent this crop year after record low plantings in previous years.   Due, in part, to communist China and other countries that are propping up their own domestic production through rich subsidies and protections, the worldwide market has become artificially depressed and this is harming American producers.

And that is why report language was added to the fiscal year 2015 appropriations bill directing USDA to fix the problem.  A legislative fix was unnecessary because the cost reduction options in permanent law already provide authority to correct the problem before it becomes even more serious.  An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

Second, is the proposed rule on actively engaged. The rulemaking required under the Farm Bill authorized USDA to consider establishing limits on the number of farm managers for various kinds of farming operations.  I did not like the provision in the Farm Bill in the first place, but I took some comfort in the idea that the rule would be implemented in a flexible way, fully recognizing the variety of farming operations today.  But limiting the number of managers on a farm to 1, 2, or a maximum of 3 managers is truly arbitrary and capricious and ignores the remarkable diversity and complexity in agriculture today.

Finally, I know that there is ongoing work to provide rice producers and others a margin coverage insurance policy.  As you know, coverage levels and participation rates among rice producers have been very low compared to other crops because the irrigated nature of rice production prevents any yield variability.  Margin coverage is meant to help address this problem.  We also specifically listed rice in the crop insurance title of the Farm Bill as an underserved commodity to focus RMA’s attention on the risk management needs of rice producers.  After years of low participation and recent news that basic revenue protection will not be available this year to rice producers—I hope you will do all you can to ensure that this new margin product works for rice producers, in particular.  

These three concerns that I register are not meant to take away from my compliments to both of you on your overall handling of implementation.  I have been impressed by your work.  Rather, I bring these issues to your attention to highlight their importance to me, my constituents, and many of my colleagues.  I hope we can work together to solve these problems before they become a lot worse.

I would now like to recognize my friend and ranking member for any comments he would like to make.        

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