Weekly Columns

Farm Bill season is in full swing. Since the start of the year, the pace of work at the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry—on which I serve as the lead Republican—has picked up dramatically.

The committee has held hearings to review each of the 12 farm bill titles with administration officials and is now in the process of holding similar hearings at the subcommittee level to gain stakeholder input. 

I cannot understate the importance of  the process. The real-life experiences of those who are impacted by the decisions we make in Washington must inform the next Farm Bill. 

That is what makes these subcommittee hearings so valuable. Stakeholders from across the country, from every aspect of agriculture, have come before the subcommittees to share their stories and answer our questions about the effectiveness of Farm Bill programs. 

This includes Jeff Rutledge, a fifth-generation farmer who produces rice, soybeans and corn along the White and Cache Rivers in Newport. 

He currently serves as vice president of the Agriculture Council of Arkansas, one of the inaugural members of the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership Committee and various other committees and boards. 

His testimony before the Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry highlighted how a strong farm safety net allows producers to enact the best conservation practices. 

As he told our committee, rice farmers are passionate conservationists.” They personally invest their own financial resources to bring soil, water and wildlife conservation programs to their farms.

He went on to warn that historic producer investments in conservation can’t happen if the farm is not profitable and urged Congress to “ensure all producers have the safety net to continue to be sustainable both economically as well as environmentally. 

Along with making a strong case for the safety net-conservation nexus, his appearance before the subcommittee gave us an opportunity to share the story of the exceptional conservation efforts underway in Arkansas—including USA Rice’s conservation partnerships with organizations like Ducks Unlimited and private sector entities. 

As important as it is to have voices of producers like Rutledge’s heard in Washington, it is equally important that senators and members of Congress get out of Washington to hear directly from producers on the ground. 

That is why I launched a series of listening sessions in Arkansas and I’m continuing the discussions with farmers, ranchers, foresters, rural community leaders and nutrition professionals with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle in their states. 

We’ve had excellent visits in Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas, with several more to come. It has been extremely beneficial learning more about distinctions between producers and rural communities in these states, as every region and every commodity have different needs. The Farm Bill must balance those sometimes-competing needs. 

I look forward to continuing our conversations with our nation’s agricultural stakeholders about how we can improve policies to better support the industry so we can maintain our position as a leader in producing the saftest, most abundant food supply in the world; our rural leaders on ways to grow their communities; and nutrition professionals on how we can protect the integrity of our hunger relief programs while reaching those in need. 

These are our goals for the next Farm Bill, and I believe, with a bipartisan process that puts stakeholders’ needs first, we will be able to achieve those goals.