Farm Bill necessary for nation's food security

Serving on the House Agriculture Committee I see the benefits of ensuring a safe, adequate food supply for all Americans. We have seen the vulnerability to our country’s economy and high fuel prices due to our reliance on foreign energy. We must not make the same mistake with our food supply.

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Every citizen has a vested interest in ensuring the American farmer succeeds. This has been done policy-wise since the 1930's through the Farm Bill. The current bill, passed in 2008, expires this fall. It contains agriculture programs like crop insurance, commodity and price supports, conservation programs, disaster assistance, marketing loan assistance and milk supports, as well as rural development and nutrition programs.

Few realize that the 2008 Farm Bill's $994 billion price tag only encompasses about 2% of the federal budget, and over 75 percent of its funding goes toward nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps. Only about half of 1 percent of the budget supports food production -- a very small investment to keep our food supply safe, affordable and reliable.

However, in these tough economic times when the government is borrowing 36 cents out of every dollar it spends, even good investments must be trimmed. The questions are how much and what programs?

Direct payments have come under fire and probably will be eliminated. With current high commodity prices, there is less need for this expenditure. But some argue that if prices tumble in years to come, the nation might regret removing this safety net.

Among farmers, crop insurance is the most popular program because it mitigates risk caused by droughts and disasters. But rather than a government handout, farmers must put their own money on the line to obtain loss protection. The taxpayer subsidizes the premiums but ends up spending less money than if coverage were to provide emergency disaster assistance as in years past.

Other popular programs include agriculture research. Crop yields have increased tremendously over the past few years due to improved genetics and enhanced crop protection products. With the world's food needs doubling by 2050, continued improvements are necessary to feed the world.

Cost savings can be found in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) which pays property owners to keep lands out of production while preserving marginal lands and providing a place for wildlife habitat. At a time when people around the world are starving, crop prices are at an all-time high and our country is running a deficit, it's time for more of this land to come back into production.

In addition, real savings could be found in the portion of the Farm Bill covering SNAP. This program is known for waste, fraud and abuse. With one in seven Americans now on food stamps due to the president's failed fiscal policies, SNAP's costs are skyrocketing. We must find ways to be more responsible. This could be done by giving more implementation authority to state and local government. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has proposed converting SNAP into a block grant program that would help get Farm Bill spending under control and allow states to implement innovative reforms to eliminate waste and encourage work.  
 
The House and Senate Agriculture Committees will be focused on developing a nutrition assistance and food security bill that makes sense for Americans while acknowledging the need to live within our means. I am hopeful we will be able to complete the process this year without passing an extension. Americans can feel confident that legislators will keep the consumer in mind as we establish policy to ensure America continues to enjoy the most abundant, safe and affordable food supply in the world.
 
Rep. Hartzler (R-Mo.) is one of the few members of Congress living on a working farm, where she and her husband raise corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle.