Agriculture has been the steady force in our recovery. In the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in American history, net farm income in 2010 and 2011 hit record highs. These gains have insulated our communities from further job losses and kept grocery prices low.
Not only that, our producers have achieved increased production and sales without the government support most like to claim. Of the 34 member countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States ranks 31st for government assistance to producers. Less than one-half of one percent of the federal budget currently goes to support producers, and speaking locally, over seventy percent of farms in Texas do not even receive supports. However, we must all face the realities of our budget constraints, and the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will likely reduce these numbers further.
Now that we have turned the corner, we should take this opportunity to improve our system of imports and exports, and improve the pipelines that support growth of agriculture. Something we can all agree on is we do not want to find ourselves at the mercy of foreign markets to produce the food that finds its way to American dinner tables.
Our opportunity to improve our production opportunities is to improve our access to markets and trading partners. One of the most important actions by President Obama was signing our three long stalled Free Trade Agreements with Columbia, Korea, and Panama. Each of these agreements offer different opportunities for American producers – but what they all have in common is connecting the finest producers in the world with markets otherwise inaccessible.
One only needs to review our livestock exports in the last 20 years to see the growing influence of American agriculture around the world. Even with the mad cow scare of 2004, which only underscored our need of smart food safety regulations, the share of beef exports have doubled, poultry has tripled, and pork has increased more than 10 times.
Congress must lead on these issues, and not kick yet another important piece of legislation like the Farm Bill down the road.
Because of the basic realities of their livelihood, agriculture is unique in how producers must plan in advance how they wish to run their businesses. Pushing our work until its politically convenient leaves family farms to guess on the regulations that will govern them down the road. Without a new farm bill, USDA is unable to assist with new difficulties that have arisen since 2008 - such as the expanding citrus diseases – and cut areas that have out lived their usefulness.
The Farm Bill has a history of being one of Congress’s most bipartisan products that draws support from Democrats and Republicans alike. American producers are not asking for a hand-out or bail-out; they are asking us to simply put them in a position to compete and succeed in new markets.
Rep. Cuellar (D-Texas) is a member of the House Agriculture Committee.