Wicker: Mississippi Is Reaping the Benefits of the New Farm Bill

Law Provides Stability for Farmers, Cuts Federal Spending for Taxpayers

October 20, 2014

During the month of October, scenes of hard-working farmers bringing in the year’s harvest are commonplace in Mississippi. More than 42,000 farms populate our landscape, growing commodities such as poultry, catfish, cotton, corn, soybeans, and peanuts. According to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, the industry totaled $7.5 billion in 2013, making it the largest job creator in the state.

Congress took steps earlier this year to provide farmers and ranchers across the country with a number of key program revisions. These new tools were included in a comprehensive “Farm Bill,” which was signed into law in February 2014. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently reported that progress has been made on “every (part) of the Farm Bill including risk management tools, farm loan programs, agricultural research, and disaster relief to farmers and ranchers.” But more work remains to be done. 

Certainty and Stability for Farmers

Farming and ranching operations are highly dependent on cooperating weather and consumer demand. They constantly battle razor-thin profit margins. To combat these challenges, USDA is in the process of implementing the law’s new risk management tools, including price and revenue protections, and crop insurance reforms. These reforms will help provide farmers certainty and stability when making decisions about production loans, equipment, and crop insurance costs. Producers and taxpayers should soon begin to see the results of these critical improvements.

One of the most significant parts of the law is the reduction in overall mandatory spending -- $23 billion over the next 10 years, including vital reforms to the nation’s food stamp program.  Mississippi is fortunate to have Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., leading the way on developing the new Farm Bill. As the lead Republican on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, he saw that the law was both fiscally responsible and beneficial to every Mississippian.

Safeguarding the Catfish Market

For years, Mississippi’s catfish industry has been constantly undercut by underpriced frozen fish fillets from Asia. The Farm Bill protects American producers by helping to level the playing field. The law directs the USDA to finish implementing the catfish inspection program. This program requires all producers of catfish – domestic and international – to abide by the same food safety standards.

Unfortunately, the program has been stalled by bureaucratic entanglements at the Office of Management and Budget. That agency is required to sign off before implementation of USDA’s catfish inspection program can begin. I am hopeful that the Administration will approve the program soon. Safeguarding the catfish market from foreign counterfeits is not only important for producers but also for consumers who have a right to have access to clean farm-raised catfish.

Regulatory Overreach Threatens Farmers

Despite the impact of the Farm Bill, it seems the Obama Administration is looking for new ways to obstruct the positive progress of our nation’s farmers and small businesses. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a new rule to expand federal authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate even small streams, farm ditches, wetlands, and ponds.  Their broadened definition of the “waters of the United States” flies in the face of long-standing Congressional intent and Supreme Court rulings.

In the Senate, my colleagues and I have worked to prevent overreach by EPA and the Corps under the Clean Water Act.  I am a cosponsor of the “Protecting Water and Property Rights Act of 2014,” a bill introduced by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to stop the agencies’ proposed rule from being finalized.

I am committed to working with producers in our state to ensure agriculture remains an integral part of our economy and our way of life. The new farm bill is a good step in that direction.