The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry has a well-deserved reputation as being among the most bipartisan places on Capitol Hill. It is a place where committee members actually sit down around a table, hash out our differences and create policy that is good for American agriculture.
Since much of Congress’s work is often marred in gridlock, the bipartisan accomplishments of the Senate Ag Committee are often easy to miss. The result of the collaborative approach which has traditionally defined the committee’s work is perhaps best exemplified by the record amount of “yea” votes cast in the Senate for the 2018 Farm Bill.
The retirement of former Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) leaves some big shoes to fill on the Republican side of the dais. As I step into the role of Ranking Member on the committee, I pledge to continue the spirit of cooperation he admirably and consistently modeled. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and I are committed to working together to address the many challenges facing our agricultural producers and rural America.
At the top of that list is the impact of the pandemic on the agriculture community. There are many concerns and vulnerabilities that remain to be addressed.
The effect the pandemic had on the supply chain should renew our focus on policies that bolster food production, reduce the barriers producers face and ensure that goods get from farm to shelf in an efficient manner because it’s not if, but when another crisis of this magnitude emerges. It has also revealed the urgent need to expand broadband access across rural America. High-speed internet has allowed Americans to work, seek medical care and keep their kids in school safely throughout the pandemic—as long as they have connectivity, which too many rural Arkansans still lack.
Our agenda outside of pandemic response is just as full. Despite recent rises in commodity prices, agricultural producers are still struggling from the tough economic times they have faced over the last several years. Government payments are making up a large portion of net farm income, and we must pursue policies that change this trend.
We have to keep that in mind as we gear up for the next farm bill, which will be here before we know it. We have written farm bills in good times and in bad times. Now, we are going to write one during unprecedented times.
The best way to increase demand for American agriculture products is to open more markets for our producers and ensure our farmers and ranchers have a fair, level playing field with our competitors. We must work to build new and strengthen our existing export markets and strengthen existing ones, as 95 percent of our consumers live outside of the United States.
Additionally, the Biden administration has made it clear that addressing climate change will be a priority. Agriculture should be thought of as part of the solution, not the problem. We must prevent overreaching, unworkable, and overly burdensome environmental regulations that unfairly penalize producers.
We have a lot on our plate, but I am excited to take on a leadership role and have a hand in shaping policy for each of these issues.
I am optimistic that we can put Arkansas farmers and ranchers in a position to succeed and help rural America thrive. My colleagues and I are eager to get to work toward accomplishing those goals.