Bennet Opens Farm Bill Conference with Call for Principled, Practical Compromise to Provide Certainty for Colorado Producers

October 30, 2013

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today called on members of the Farm Bill conference committee to work together to get a full 5-year Farm Bill to the president’s desk to be signed into law. Today marked the first official meeting of members of the conference committee as they work to reconcile the differences between the Senate-passed and House-passed bills.

In his opening statement, Bennet said, “For the farmers, ranchers, and rural communities driving Colorado’s $40 billion agricultural economy, it is so important that we work through our differences to complete this process. If I could sum up what I’ve heard in the nearly 30 listening sessions we’ve had across Colorado on this topic, the message would be simple: Give us the certainty of a 5-year Farm bill.”

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Bennet helped craft the Senate bill with input he received from dozens of listening sessions and meetings held throughout Colorado.

Agriculture adds $40 billion to Colorado’s economy every year, making the Farm Bill particularly relevant. It also supports tourism and other vital industries with its increased focus on conservation and forest health – two priorities Bennet fought to include in the Senate bill.

Senator Bennet’s Prepared Remarks:

Thank you, Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson, for hosting us today. And thank you to Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran for your sustained effort in getting us to this moment. I’m honored to be a part of the Farm Bill conference.

For the farmers, ranchers, and rural communities driving Colorado’s $40 billion agricultural economy, it is so important that we work through our differences to complete this process.

If I could sum up what I’ve heard in the nearly 30 listening sessions we’ve had across Colorado on this topic, the message would be simple: Give us the certainty of a 5-year Farm bill.

The Senate Farm Bill reflects a bipartisan but principled and practical compromise. In it, we identify priorities, streamline duplication, and break away from old, inefficient habits. We end the days of automatically issuing payments to farmers, regardless of economic need. And we strengthen crop insurance to protect the farmers on Colorado’s Eastern Plains against stubbornly persistent drought conditions.

As Colorado continues to break its own export records, its dairy sector has been especially effective at finding markets overseas. The Senate bill moves away from price protection on planted acres, which will strengthen our farmers’ ability to export. We should be forward-looking to arrive at a commodity policy that supports this vital area of potential growth in the farm economy.

The Senate Bill makes strategic investments in additional areas of innovation and growth. It provides crop insurance and industry-led research and promotion for organics—an industry that is creating jobs at a rate of four times the national average. It provides mandatory funding for energy programs—a huge creator of new wealth in rural Colorado. And the Senate bill strengthens rural development so that we can support businesses like the Abts Pharmacy in Haxtun. This pharmacy is a recent recipient of a USDA loan and now has 8 employees and serves the people in the Northeast corner of Colorado.

Mr. Chairman, we need a strong conservation title with robust resources in the final bill. When disaster strikes – like the horrible floods we had in Colorado – it is programs like EQIP that provide immediate aid to struggling producers. The Senate conservation title includes a provision to give the Agriculture Secretary flexibility regarding the match requirements needed to finalize conservation easements. This practical idea comes straight from Colorado’s farmers and ranchers. The Senate Bill would also place more land in conservation by once again linking crop insurance participation to basic conservation practices. As for public lands conservation, the Senate bill upgrades the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 to prioritize treatments on national forest lands struck by insect outbreaks—including Colorado’s beetle kill. And there’s a bipartisan Senate agreement for extending Colorado’s “Good Neighbor” authority in our national forests.

Finally, I recognize the challenges ahead, especially on SNAP and other nutrition issues. As a former school superintendent, I’ve seen firsthand how access to food and life success are closely intertwined for our kids. While no program written by lawmakers in Washington is perfect, the structure of SNAP has proven effective during this period of high need.

We should find path a forward that respects all people affected by on the Farm Bill.

Thank you again for this opportunity.

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