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Q & A: Farm Bill Update

June 21, 2018
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley - R-Iowa , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Q: What's on the table for renewing the next Farm Bill?

A: The Agricultural Act of 2014, more commonly known as the Farm Bill, will expire on Sept. 30. The sweeping farm and food law typically is updated every five years. It sets the legal framework for administering a broad range of public policy that has a tremendous impact on Iowa, from commodity support, nutrition assistance, trade, energy, research, conservation and rural development.

This summer the Senate is working to update the legislation with a bipartisan bill called the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018. The bill was adopted in June by the Senate Agriculture Committee.

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U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Among other measures, I'm glad the bill provides much-needed certainty for farmers and livestock producers. It would preserve and strengthen the farm safety net with crop insurance and other risk management tools to help producers mitigate natural disasters and market fluctuations; invest in voluntary conservation programs; increase mental health services for rural communities; emphasize healthy foods and program integrity for nutrition assistance programs; expand high-speed internet access in Rural America; boost America's renewable energy portfolio; and, support farmers starting out in their careers, including veterans and organic growers.

As a lifelong family farmer, I have the benefit of bringing real life experience to inform the debate how the nation's farm policy impacts livelihoods and our way of life in Rural America.

Throughout my public service representing Iowans, I have cultivated bipartisan, regional and rural-urban alliances to develop effective, fiscally responsible farm and food policies. These decisions bear far-reaching consequences for America's economic, food, energy and national security.

Many people also are surprised to learn that 80 percent of tax dollars spent through the Farm Bill fund nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program.

Q: What priorities will you pursue as the farm bill moves through Congress?

A: The farm safety net protects U.S. food security.

My record reflects a strong commitment and advocacy for strengthening the farm safety net. That includes working very hard to make it as effective and fiscally responsible as possible.

For years I have shouldered efforts to enact meaningful, reasonable, enforceable payment limits for farm subsidies. Our nation's farm programs ought to provide temporary assistance to help our food producers weather cyclical downturns in the marketplace and survive a natural disaster, so that if Mother Nature wipes out a crop, a farmer's livelihood isn't swept away for good, for example.

Lifting income caps that would allow billionaires to be eligible for farm payments flies in the face of the program's intent. The farm program is intended to help farmers who are actively engaged in the farm operation. I'm talking about those with dirt underneath their fingernails who put in the sweat equity often before sunrise to well past sundown during the harvest season to make sure Americans have an abundance of affordable food to put on the table.

Unfortunately, the Farm Bill reflects another example of a government program being manipulated for profit at taxpayer expense.

Right now, 10 percent of recipients get more than 70 percent of federal farm payments. That tells me with the right lawyer, some farming operations have figured out how to game the system and siphon resources away from real, working farmers.

According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, non-farmers who exploited loopholes in the farm program in 2015 received $259 million from the U.S. Treasury. Let that sink in for a moment. More than a quarter of a billion dollars intended to help farmers was diverted through arbitrary loopholes that allow people who do not work on farms to get farm subsidies of $125,000 or $250,000 for a married couple.

What's more, the 50 largest subsidy recipients in 2015 used 193 extra "managers" to collect additional payments.

Although I am disappointed my payment limits amendments weren't included in the committee-backed farm bill, I will bring my battle to the floor of the U.S. Senate. I will offer amendments to put in place an enforceable income cap and to close the loopholes that allow the well-connected to ride the farm bill gravy train.

Reasonable, common sense reforms will restore integrity in these important programs, improve fiscal discipline and boost public confidence in the farm safety net. Let me be clear. The farm program exists to protect U.S. food security and serve as a safety net for the nation's food producers - who milk cows and harvest crops - not those who milk the system to harvest farm subsidies.

A lifelong family farmer from Butler County, Senator Grassley crop shares with his son Robin and serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee.



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