Carney urges passage of farm bill

June 29, 2013

The agriculture sector is Delaware’s number one industry, and farming is still a way of life for many families across our state. Over the years, I’ve gotten to visit dozens of Delaware’s farms - from the Wilson farm in Smyrna to the Vanderwende farm in Bridgeville; from the Hastings farm in Laurel to the Magee farm in Selbyville. These Delawareans truly see themselves as stewards of the earth - and that’s what they are.

In recent years however, Delaware farmers have faced many challenges, including rising costs, severe weather and encroaching development. Ensuring the future of agriculture and creating new opportunities for our farms, while protecting our natural resources and environment, remains one of my top priorities

Every five years, Congress must pass comprehensive legislation that sets federal agriculture policy - it’s known as the farm bill. The farm bill updates federal programs for crop support and insurance, trade promotion, conservation, rural development and other priorities. It also sets parameters for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the food stamp program, which provides food assistance to low-income Americans.

Recently, the House of Representatives considered this year’s version of the farm bill. While I ultimately voted against this version of the bill because of extreme cuts to the SNAP program, the legislation contained a number of important changes to federal agriculture policy that will save taxpayers money and benefit farmers and ranchers across the country. I’m hopeful that House leadership will bring a new bill to the floor that members of both parties can support. In the meantime, I wanted to offer my thoughts on the positive elements included in the House version of the bill, and the ways in which it needs to be improved.

This year’s farm bill ended direct payments and other outdated forms of support that most farmers say they don’t need, which would generate more than $18.5 billion in savings for taxpayers over the next 10 years.  The bill used part of these savings to improve federally subsidized crop insurance to create a better, market-based safety net for farmers. By transitioning away from direct payments, we would be implementing a historic change that would improve the farm safety net, make our growers more secure, and save taxpayers money.

I introduced a bipartisan amendment to the farm bill related to crop insurance with Republican Congressman Trey Radel of Florida. My amendment would have maintained the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ability to achieve savings through negotiations with private crop insurers. In 2010, these savings equaled $6 billion and were used for deficit reduction, crop insurance, and to supplement conservation programs. My amendment would’ve allowed for a portion of these savings to continue to be passed along to taxpayers.

Additionally, I was pleased with the bill’s creation of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which would allow those in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to compete for resources with other critical conservation areas across the country.  Given the demands placed on our farmers to help clean up the bay, it is critical that they have access to the assistance they need to meet federal requirements for reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous that enters the bay.

However, due to the overall $4.8 billion in conservation cuts contained in the bill, I was concerned that despite the creation of this program, the Chesapeake Bay region could still see a significant cut in conservation support.  Additionally, this overall level of cuts could be damaging for Delaware farmers whether or not they are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  While not perfect, the Senate version of the farm bill contains stronger language to assist conservation efforts through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Should another version of the bill come to the House floor, I hope it utilizes the Senate language.

Finally, I was very concerned by the $20.5 billion in cuts to the SNAP program contained in the bill.  While I support ways to streamline and improve the SNAP program, these cuts would simply be too much to bear for the elderly, disabled, and struggling Americans who rely on this program.  The House and Senate should reach a compromise on the overall level of food assistance spending and House leadership should present us with a more reasonable bill to vote on.

Delaware’s vibrant agricultural sector is vital to our state’s economy and the quality of life in Delaware.  Passing a farm bill is critical to enable farmers to make long-term planning decisions and gain access to credit.  For over a year, I have encouraged my colleagues in the House to consider and pass a farm bill. Along the way, I’ve received important input from many of Delaware’s 2,300 farms about their priorities for the next farm bill. I hope we can quickly come to a bipartisan agreement and take a vote on a bill that the president can sign into law.

Congressman John Carney



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