Videos & Speeches
I just returned from my home State, your home state, of Kansas to return to the work we are about to do in the Senate. This week away from Washington, D.C., gave me the opportunity to travel really all corners of our State. I went from southeast Kansas in Galena to northwest Kansas in Goodland, and almost every night while I was home weather was the topic of conversation.
Certainly, as Kansans who have experienced tornadoes in our own State over the last week and, certainly, over the life of our State, we extend our deepest sympathies and concerns to the people of Oklahoma. It is weather that I wanted to talk about on the Senate floor today in preparation for an amendment I will offer, which is being offered to the farm bill, and continued discussion of that farm bill throughout this week.
As I listened to Kansas farmers, the most prevalent request when it comes to farm policy, to a request for what ought to be in a farm bill is the request by Kansans that the Crop Insurance remain a solid and viable program. We live in a State in which weather is not always a friend to agriculture. Yet agriculture is our most significant creator of economic activity and generator of jobs and economic growth in our State. We have the pleasure, in fact we are very proud, to feed, clothe, and provide energy to much of the world.
At the moment the challenges are great because of the significant effects the drought has had on Kansas and much of the Midwest. That drought has been ongoing for more than 2 years, and it has had a significant impact upon agricultural production. It is that point I want to make as we debate the farm bill, the importance of the Crop Insurance Program in response to those difficult times.
Despite the drought, our Nation remains the land of plenty, and Americans continue to enjoy the safest and most abundant food supply in the world. The reason we have so much is because of many factors: prayers, the work ethic of American farmers and ranchers, the courage to persevere in spite of enormous challenges, and, among those things, finally, is the ability to manage risk.
Farming and ranching is a high-risk occupation. Producers can't manage the one thing that matters most to them, Mother Nature. Mother Nature is the one variable that can't be controlled. Mother Nature brings drought, rain, wind, and hail, the things a producer must face head on each year and each year to follow.
With the inability to control the weather, we must control what we can--the great risks associated with agriculture. This is required for the United States to remain that land of plenty. The risk management tool of choice is crop insurance.
Crop insurance gives producers a safety net so when there is a drought, a flood, a hailstorm, or windstorm, they can pick up the pieces and try again. This is what sets us apart from the rest of the world. We have the ability to manage our risks so when Mother Nature gives us something bad, our nation's farmers and ranchers can live to start again.
Crop insurance is a public-private partnership. The government helps the producers cover some of the costs of the policy, and the producer covers the rest. Consumers help the producer, and the producer helps the consumer.
To be clear, producers pay a significant part of the premium out of their own pocket. In 2012 they paid $4.1 billion to buy insurance to manage their risks. When you take out a crop insurance policy, you get a bill, not a check.
Crop insurance has virtually replaced the need for ad hoc disaster measures for crops. During my time in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate, going back to 1989, 42 such pieces of legislation have cost the taxpayer more than $70 billion. During my time in the House, and now the Senate, many times we have asked for ad hoc disaster assistance, a bill to pass the legislature to provide assistance at the moment. Crop insurance is the tool by which we can avoid those requests. When you manage risks with crop insurance, you save the taxpayers money and give the producers a better program.
Today, as we have scheduled votes, I have an amendment on the Senate floor dealing with a crop called alfalfa. Alfalfa is the Nation's fourth most valuable crop, and it plays a significant role in our daily lives. Alfalfa is a building block for milk and meat. The hay that is grown in the fields of California, Idaho, South Dakota, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas, and the rest of the 50 States is a driver of the cost of products on grocery store shelves. The Nation's fourth most valuable crop is vitally important.
The reality is producers are faced with risks, and there is no good way to manage them when it comes to this crop, alfalfa. The current Crop Insurance Program, Forage Production APH, is severely inadequate, as demonstrated by the fact that less than 10 percent of the acres are enrolled in the program—compared to corn, soybeans, and wheat, which are all more than 80 percent.
Producers are going back to the bank to borrow operating money and being told not to plant alfalfa because there is no good way to manage the risk. This is very troubling because of the impact that alfalfa has on the economy and our Nation's food supply.
The crop is important, and we need to figure out a way to manage its risks. Producers are being told to grow crops that have a safety net, crops that have some kind of guarantee when weather is bad. My amendment, No. 987, requires the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to conduct research and development regarding a policy to insure alfalfa and a report describing the results of that study. There are no additional costs to the taxpayer with my amendment.
We need to take a good hard look at alfalfa and recognize its value to the Nation. We need to study and develop something that will work, save taxpayer money, and make certain the land of plenty remains the land of plenty. Alfalfa is a building block of milk and meat. With a risk management tool for alfalfa production, producers will enjoy lower input cost and consumers will enjoy less expensive products on the grocery store shelves.
Mr. President, I know you understand the value of agriculture in Kansas, and I appreciate the opportunity to be on the Senate floor today to describe the value of crop insurance and particularly to highlight the amendment we will vote on later today.