The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held its first 2012 Farm Bill hearing on Wednesday.
The Committee heard from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, leaders of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union and four producers from different regions of the country.
Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) began the hearing by outlining the five principles she intends to guide her Committee’s process: that farmers’ and ranchers’ work is valuable and should be appreciated; that farm bill ideas should emanate from farm country; that the 2012 Farm Bill should build off the 2008 Farm Bill; that creativity is essential to strengthening the existing safety net; and that the need to increase food production as the world’s population rises dramatically should be top of mind during farm bill discussions.
In his opening statement, Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said he believes oversight of the 2008 Farm Bill is more appropriate at this point than discussions about a new farm bill, since farmers are still very much gaining experience with new programs like ACRE and SURE.
As at similar hearings held by the House Agriculture Committee, witnesses and Members touched on the importance of the crop insurance program and concern about the 2012 Farm Bill baseline following cuts from the renegotiation of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement. A number of witnesses and Members also discussed the challenge of designing safety net programs in light of the very diverse American agriculture sector.
Questioning included a frank exchange between Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Vilsack about the media’s treatment of agriculture, which is often incomplete at best and intentionally misleading at worst. Vilsack recounted a recent incident in which a television program hosted a guest who decried agriculture’s achievements, but hasn’t granted a request from the Secretary’s office for equal time. Roberts pressured him to name the program, which was Morning Joe.
Roberts also questioned the Secretary on two issues of great concern to many wheat producers, increasing environmental regulation and a stalled trade agenda that has left three pending free trade agreements untouched for more than two years.
The Senate Committee has announced but not scheduled three additional 2012 Farm Bill hearings, focusing on rural development, conservation programs and energy. By contrast, the House Agriculture Committee has held more than a dozen hearings around the country to begin examining ideas for the 2012 bill.
A full rebroadcast of this week’s hearing is available by clicking on the hearing title in the June 30 box on the Committee’s calendar at http://ag.senate.gov/site/calendar.html.
The Committee is also soliciting feedback from growers and others about the future of farm policy. Those with comments can provide them through a Web form accessible at http://ag.senate.gov/site/.