Ag Policy Blog

Roberts Sees Tighter Budget for Next Farm Bill

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas held a farm bill hearing Saturday in Michigan. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts cautioned Saturday that he believes there will not be more money for the next farm bill.

After listening to 16 witnesses invited by Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., for a farm bill field hearing in Frankenmuth, Mich., on Saturday, Roberts said, “The reality is we are going to have to do more with less.”

Roberts, R-Kansas, repeated that the federal debt totals $19 trillion and added, “We can’t go on like this.”

In an opening statement, Stabenow noted that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 2014 farm bill will save $80 billion more than expected and that 500 groups have said there should be no additional cuts.

During a news conference following the hearing, Roberts said that each of the witnesses who came to Michigan State University’s Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center had provided “valuable insights.”

“We were here to do one thing, listen,” Roberts said.

Farm groups have said there should be additional resources for the next farm bill and the House Agriculture Committee has said there should be “budget flexibility” to develop the next bill.

Then Roberts said, “Times are tough in farm country, I don’t know how many times we are going to have to say that to get the attention of the national media. The credit situation is tightening, prices continue to be low.”

He also noted that Kansas has been going through “a rough patch” due to “Mother Nature” -- a reference to the recent wildfires and a storm that appears to have devastated the winter wheat crop.

“Overregulation is a real problem,” said Roberts, who had reacted strongly when a farmer said that the Agriculture Department expects him to record wildlife that crosses his property. Overregulation is a problem at USDA and throughout the federal government, Roberts said.

The hearing was running short on time because Roberts had to catch a plane, and he asked the second panel of witnesses for their ideas about flexibilities and efficiencies.

Members of the panel suggested allowing haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program land, access for additional groups to the Connect America fund, combining local, regional and urban agriculture programs and more cooperation among providers of food aid to low-income people might all make the farm bill more efficient.

Roberts also stressed the importance of agricultural trade and noted that that Robert Lighthizer, President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. trade representative, will be confirmed this week.

“Trade is on the mind of virtually every farmer, every rancher, every consumer organization that is involved in agriculture,” Roberts said. “I think we are making some progress to impress upon this administration [that] we have to have a fair, tough but realistic trade policy.”

Reiterating that times are tough in farm country because prices are low, Roberts added, “If we can get trade straightened out, that is one way we can see price improvement and then lessen the other problems that we have.”

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