Opinion Columns & Blogs

Tom Vilsack: Need comprehensive food, farm, jobs bill

This fall, Americans are counting on Congress to provide a comprehensive food, farm and jobs bill that provides a reliable safety net for America’s farmers, ranchers and growers.

Thanks to the resilience and productivity of our farmers, American agriculture has achieved amazing momentum these past five years. Our farmers and ranchers achieved these results even in the face of a historic drought last year, which illustrated the highly unpredictable nature of agriculture. Notwithstanding this and other disasters, net farm income is set to increase this year, and we likely will see another record in 2013 for agricultural exports.

This productivity enables our agriculture sector to grow the vast majority of our food supply here at home, and American families to pay less for their food at the grocery store than the people of any other nation.

But as every farmer, rancher and producer knows, there are no guarantees in agriculture. These folks face a great deal of uncertainty, both from the weather and markets that are beyond their control. The margin between success and failure is slim, and many factors can turn quickly against a producer.

The 2008 farm bill included disaster programs to provide assistance for farmers and ranchers who lost crops and livestock after disaster. Under these programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was able to provide hundreds of thousands of disaster payments for farmers and ranchers, which alongside a strong federal crop insurance program helped keep farm businesses functioning through a multitude of natural disasters. Unfortunately, these disaster programs expired in 2011.

A comprehensive new food, farm and jobs bill would reinstate the much-needed disaster assistance programs. It would provide retroactive assistance for livestock producers who have suffered from drought and other disasters, give farmers and ranchers peace of mind and better allow them to plan their business operations for the long term.

A comprehensive bill would reform the safety net in ways that make sense for farmers and taxpayers alike. The bipartisan bill passed this June by the Senate would save billions of dollars by ending the direct payments program – which provides payments regardless of outside factors – while maintaining a strong crop insurance and disaster safety net for those who need help.