Of all the members on the House Agriculture Committee, I am the only representative from the Mid-South, so it is my job to educate members of the Agriculture Committee from other corners of the country about the unique challenges Arkansas’s producers face. Just as manufacturers face competition from overseas, Arkansas farmers also feel the pressure from foreign markets. I am proud that American farmers produce the safest, most reliable, most abundant supply of food on the planet. But if the great success story of American agriculture is to continue, Congress must write and pass a responsible Farm Bill that works for all farm families across the country.
Farming in the Mississippi River Delta involves the use of unique production methods. Mid-South farmers largely use irrigation methods, which reduce production risk and yield variability. However, farmers in my district grow crops that face tremendous market volatility - meaning if prices swing too far in one direction, it could be enough to put farmers out of business. The Farm Bill must be reflective of our farmers’ risks – whatever those risks might be. Unfortunately, my colleagues in the U.S. Senate passed a bill that takes a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to agricultural production, and imposes a Midwestern insurance risk-management model on the entirety of U.S. agriculture. This is unfair and won’t work. The House Farm Bill must be fair to every region of the United States – not just a single region.
The Farm Bill represents an important opportunity for me to carry out one of the most important reasons my constituents sent me to Washington – to cut government spending. The Farm Bill accounts for nearly a trillion dollars of spending over a decade - nearly three-fourths of which goes to the food stamp program. Since President Obama assumed office, food stamp spending has doubled and continues to grow. Within the program, loopholes exist that have allowed bad actors to take advantage of the program who would otherwise be ineligible. In April, the Agriculture Committee took an important step to eliminate waste and abuse in the food stamp program. I am hopeful that we can incorporate some of these reforms in the final Farm Bill. We also have a great opportunity to make other common sense reforms in farm program spending by streamlining crop insurance, putting conservation acres back into production, and reducing eligibility for commodity programs to actual planted acres.
When I ask farmers in my district which government agency causes them the most headaches, they always answer with three letters – EPA. In writing a new Farm Bill, Congress has an opportunity to adopt proposals that provide relief from the regulatory burden imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Early in the 112th Congress, the House passed H.R. 872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011, by an overwhelming majority. This common-sense piece of legislation streamlines the permitting process for pesticides by eliminating a multi-tiered regulatory scheme that burdens our farmers, small businesses, and local governments. Another cost-saving measure would be to adopt my proposal, H.R. 3158, the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship (FUELS) Act. This bill would provide relief to most farm facilities from regulations that will require producers to make costly infrastructure improvements to liquid storage tanks. The University of Arkansas estimates that my proposal would save Arkansas farmers alone up to $252 million. Even President Obama referred to these EPA regulations as unnecessary in his “spilled milk” joke during the State of the Union Address.
Unpredictable weather, an ever-changing marketplace and the continued need for investments in equipment and technology make farming one of the riskiest and most difficult of all vocations. Farm policy should encourage the participation of all producers, regardless of one’s crop or production model. Going into the Farm Bill debate, I am committed to taking a strong, common-sense approach involving the principles of reform, budget savings, fairness and regulatory relief. On the Agriculture Committee, I am standing up for Mid-South farmers by working with Democrats and Republicans to write a Farm Bill that works for everyone across all regions of the country.
Crawford represents the leading rice producing Congressional district in the United States. He serves on the House Agriculture Committee. He co-founded the Rice Caucus and the Chicken Caucus in the United States House of Representatives.