Videos & Speeches

The Natural Resource Conservation Service is one of the best opportunities we have, and some of the best stewards we have for caring for lands in Kansas, are our farmers and ranchers. And what a great combination in the public-private partnership when we work together to improve our water quality and quantity, work to make sure that our air is cleaner, make certain as best we can that the dust doesn’t blow in Kansas. And so while we talk about environmental issues, I want to mention the work that goes on in my home state and places across the country with the partnership that occurs by the Department of Agriculture, USDA, its agency, the NRCS, and land owners in my state. But, Madam President, I want to highlight how difficult those farmers and ranchers – what circumstances they find themselves in today.

In 2016, the price of wheat hit a decade-low. Wheat prices fell from a high of $7.60 a bushel in 2013 to $4.11 per bushel in 2016. So from $7.60 to $4.11 in just a short period of time and unfortunately those prices have continued to stay low. Often in Kansas when commodity prices are a challenge for those who raise crops, we’re able to supplement our income by the price of cattle. Our ability to raise quality beef and to sell that in markets and to compensate for the challenges that occur on the crop side of agriculture. Unfortunately, the same thing has happened in the livestock market as well. Live cattle prices dropped from $166 per hundred weight in January of 2015 to $132 per hundred weight in January of 2016. So again, a fall from $166 to $132. Those two things combined – low commodity prices, low prices for wheat, low prices for cattle – mean that agriculture and rural America is hurting greatly. This is a tremendous challenge and appearing to be perhaps the most difficult time that agriculture producers, farmers and ranchers, face in the Midwest since the Thirties.

I’ve come to speak about this today. Senator Roberts, the senator from Kansas who chairs the Agriculture Committee, is having a hearing of the Agriculture Committee in Kansas during the next few days, and I appreciate the opportunity he’s providing Kansans to have input as we begin the process – as the process begins – for a new farm bill. And I congratulate him and welcome the input that everyday folks who earn a living in agriculture will have as a result of his efforts.

What I want to highlight today with the circumstances so challenging, we need to do things that reduce the input costs associated with production agriculture. But the focus I want to make today is that we need every market possible for our farmers and ranchers to sell into. Ninety-five percent of the mouths to feed, ninety-five percent of the consumers are outside the United States. And our ability to survive in agriculture in Kansas and in this country is related to our ability to export those agricultural commodities as well as food products around the globe.

In the confirmation hearings that I’ve been involved in, based upon my committee assignments and, in addition, in conversations with the nominee to be the Secretary of Agriculture, Governor Perdue, I have highlighted time and time again the importance of exports. So if we face this struggle, the struggle that we do absolutely face today, a way that we can help to improve that circumstance is to sell more grains, more meat products, more beef, more pork into foreign country’s markets. And it’s not happening the way it needs to happen to lift prices and therefore increase the chances that farmers and ranchers will survive the difficult and challenging economic circumstances. 

I almost said as an aside: ‘let me mention another challenge.’ It really isn’t an aside, it’s so important. We have difficult times in agriculture; it’s a cyclical world and prices are up and prices are down based upon the laws of supply and demand. But in difficult times, we’ve always in the past been able to count upon a lender. A banker who is willing to help that farmer, that rancher get through difficult times. And the regulatory environment that our banks now face, the regulatory environment that our bankers now face – particularly in rural communities where there is a relationship – we often operate in my state and certainly rural communities across Kansas as a result of a relationship. And so, our bankers, those who lend money to farmers, know those farmers they’ve known their families, they knew their parents, their grandparents and they were the financier. They were the ones who were able to lend capital, working capital to farmers in good times and bad. And our regulators and I have visited with the Cffice of the Comptroller of Currency, the FDIC, the Federal Reserve, the state banking commissioner in our state all with the message that in these difficult times, we can’t let the consequences of Dodd-Frank overwhelm the ability for a banker to continue to make decisions about lending money to agriculture producers. e can’t turn the authority of making that decision based upon long generations of relationships between those in agriculture and those in financing agriculture to be overcome by the rules and regulations that followed the passage of Dodd-Frank, particularly as it relates to those relationships for community banks and lenders. So, while it’s challenging in agriculture due to the prices, one of the ways that we’ve been able to survive over the years in low-price times is because of that relationship and understanding that I know this farm family. This is the banker talking: ‘I know this farm family. I’ve lent money to them for a long time. I’ve lent money to their father or their grandfather, to their mother and grandmother and they have the integrity and the character and the ability to repay[EG(I1] .’ And if lending in rural America becomes nothing more than a computer program in which you punch in the numbers and character becomes something that’s irrelevant, there’s not a computer program to measure character. If we lose the opportunity for a relationship developed between a lender and a farmer, we lose the ability to make things work in difficult times. Those times are with us.

The primary focus I want to make today is: we need exports, and we need them now. And while there is always a debate about the value of a particular trade agreement and that debate is useful, we ought not ever lose sight that there is no real debate about the value of exports. And so we need to put in place the mechanisms that allow farmers and ranchers and others in my state to be able to export a product around the globe. And I would encourage the administration and Members of Congress as we develop our policies in this new session to make certain that exports are front and center in our economic policy, because the survival of the folks that I represent in Kansas and the communities in which they live are in jeopardy if we don’t get those markets back and we don’t retain those markets. So, exports are important to us, we can’t afford not to pursue each and every one of them. If we’re not going to have multilateral trade agreements, we need to have bilateral trade agreements and we can’t wait very long for those agreements to take place. Again, ninety-five percent of the consumers live outside the United States, and our ability in Kansas to have a bright future is determined by the ability to connect with those consumers outside the U.S.

Again, if I can take just one more moment to also point out that we have requested – I have requested – USAID and the Department of Agriculture in our food and hunger programs around the globe to increase the role that wheat and other commodities play in feeding a hungry world. We want to sell commodities in the export market; but as we develop our programs to combat hunger, we can get something that is very noble and something very valuable. Helping people around the globe be able to go to bed with a full stomach is a desirable and noble goal, and the utilization of an increasing amount of agricultural commodities growing in the United States in that effort would benefit farmers in our country as well. It’s the proverbial win-win: noble accomplishment helping people fight back food insecurity at the same time creating additional opportunity for the export of wheat for example. Which, because of significant amounts of harvest, is in an overabundant supply here in the United States.

So, Madam President, thank you for the opportunity to visit with my colleagues here on the Senate floor today and to express the desire to work with each of them as we develop the efforts to make certain that exports are front and center, particularly as they relate to agricultural interests in the United States.