Photo Credit: Jason Johnson

For years I have worked to restore fiscal integrity to the farm safety net. Protecting the financial viability for America’s farmers and ranchers strengthens U.S. food security and national security. Farm families are integral to the social fabric of Rural America.

However, federal farm payments ought to provide a limited safety net that helps farmers weather the storms of natural disasters and the unpredictability of commodity markets. Federal farm payments should not be manipulated to help corporate farming operations get bigger and bigger at taxpayer expense. Iowa farmers tell me they want to earn their prosperity from the marketplace, not the federal treasury.

As a taxpayer watchdog and outspoken advocate for the family farm, I worked to shut off the federal spigot to unlimited farm payments and enact reasonable, enforceable payment caps during debate on the last two farm bills. Despite my commonsense amendment approved by both houses of Congress to limit abuses of Title 1 subsidies in 2014, it was stripped during final negotiations. Five years later, I resurrected my bipartisan payment limits amendment. It was adopted by the Senate earlier this year in the new Farm Bill. Again, it would have restricted the number of non-farmers eligible for $125,000 in farm payments or $250,000 if they are married. As a lifelong family farmer, I know it takes a combination of sweat equity and financial equity to keep a farming operation productive and profitable.

As far as I’m concerned, recipients cashing subsidy checks from the federal treasury ought to have farm dirt underneath their fingernails to qualify. To my disgust, the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill once again failed to include my payment limit reforms. Even worse, it expands eligibility to include nieces, nephews and first cousins. Make no mistake. Big operators will hire attorneys to structure their farming operation to maximize federal payments that effectively undermine the integrity of the safety net.

Contrary to arguments made by opponents of my amendment, expanding eligibility is not a magic solution to help beginning farmers get started. It will, however, expand loopholes for big operators to harvest more cash from the federal treasury. I have never had a single young or beginning farmer tell me that the way to help them get started is by handing out more money to the largest farmers. Congress needs to get serious about overspending.

This Farm Bill missed an opportunity to do just that.  For years, the top 10 percent of farmers has received more than 70 percent of farm payments from the federal government. Enough is enough. Expanding eligibility will only create hurdles for beginning farmers and expand loopholes that add to the debt and taxpayer burden. For these reasons, I voted no on the 2018 Farm Bill.

What I Do Support

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I worked in good faith throughout the last year to improve the farm safety net for farmers, livestock and dairy producers.

Trade tariffs, low commodity prices and market volatility are putting a pinch on the farm economy. Having a farm bill signed, sealed and delivered will alleviate some of the anxiety. Specifically, the $867 billion bill sets agriculture and food policy for the next five years. It will allow farmers to choose between the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs. Starting next year, farmers may enroll into these programs on a crop-by-crop and farm-by-farm basis. In 2020, farmers may update yield calculations at their local Farm Service Agency office.

In addition to funding for food stamps (which accounts for 80 percent of Farm Bill spending), crop insurance, trade, research and conservation programs, the Farm Bill includes money for rural broadband and mental health programs in rural America. I give a lot of credit to my friend and colleague from Iowa, Senator Joni Ernst for her leadership to reform the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

As usual, I rely on input from Iowans to influence decisions at the policymaking tables. We’ve been getting an earful that federal CRP payments essentially forced local farmers to compete with the federal government for leasing agreements. Some landowners were receiving $300 per acre to enroll their entire farms in CRP. This put young and beginning farmers at a competitive disadvantage. Senator Ernst was instrumental in restoring the original intent of this program to reduce land erosion, improve water quality and boost wildlife population.

Let’s be clear. A multi-year decline in farm income and uncertainty for farm exports is pinching the bottom line for Iowa farmers, especially corn and soybean growers.

Although I voted against the final bill because of my payment limit amendment getting scrapped at the tail end, I support much of what was in the final bill and I’m glad farmers at least will have a measure of certainty in a time of uncertainty in rural America.

When I take up the reins of the Senate Finance Committee in January, I will continue working to open markets for American agriculture, grow homegrown renewable fuels and foster prosperity in Rural America.

Photo Credit: Jason Johnson

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