Q: Why is it important to celebrate American agriculture?
A: Whether you wake up and fuel up with bacon and eggs or have milk and cereal for breakfast, busy households might take for granted the hard work it takes to ensure American families have food on the table for three square meals a day. As a lifelong family farmer, I'm proud to serve as a voice for American agriculture in the U.S. Senate. I often remind my colleagues in Washington that food doesn't grow in the supermarket. Before the pandemic led to empty grocery store shelves for the first time in many people's lifetimes, too many people across the country took America's agricultural abundance for granted. Keep in mind that America's farm families represent only two percent of the population and feed the other 98 percent with the fruits of their labor. This is a consequential demographic shift from our nation's first 100 years when most Americans lived and worked on farms. When President Lincoln signed into law a bill that created the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he called it "the people's department" because a majority of Americans at that time were farmers. Over the next century, even as the population grew, the percentage of people who farmed in the United States shrunk. The resiliency of American agriculture was tested during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression as the United States transformed from an agricultural to an urban society. Advances in farming, including agricultural mechanization, genetically engineered seeds and better conservation practices have enabled fewer farmers to improve productivity with higher crop yields while conserving resources with precision agriculture. However, modern farming methods can't remove the risks and economic uncertainties associated with farming. From natural disasters, to trade disputes, wars, soaring inflation and unprecedented supply chain disruptions, farmers work around the clock to put in the crop, tend their livestock and produce the food and fiber that feeds and fuels the world. In addition to having a strong work ethic and serving as a conscientious steward of the soil, the American farmer also must be a savvy marketing specialist, risk management expert and smart money manager. As Congress digs in to write the next five-year Farm Bill, I'm working to ensure the farm safety net provides the support Rural America needs to thrive. Food security is national security.
Q: What priorities are you championing in the Farm Bill debate?
A: When the Secretary of Agriculture appeared before the Senate Agriculture Committee in March, I used the opportunity to make sure the Biden administration heard loud and clear what's at stake for farmers and their livelihoods. As a leading agricultural state, Iowa is the #1 producer of corn, hogs, eggs and biofuels. With 86,000 farm families living and working in our rural communities, I champion ag, trade, tax and regulatory policies to help boost prosperity and uphold the family farmer's way of life from one generation to the next. Just consider, President Biden wants to roll back the clock to the Obama administration's definition of waterways - commonly known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) that would expand the federal government's regulatory powers. This federal overreach would apply to 97 percent of the property in Iowa and create unnecessary uncertainty for farmers. While this issue gets sorted out in the courts, I'm supporting legislation that puts Congress on record opposing these heavy-handed regulations.
In addition to food security, farmers play a pivotal role in domestic energy security that influences the U.S. economy and national security. I've introduced bipartisan legislation
called the Next Generation Fuels Act
that would leverage a new high-octane fuel with low-carbon sources. It would empower biofuel producers to harness the farmer's harvest into a cleaner, more fuel-efficient, lower cost alternative for consumers at the pump.
Consolidation is making it harder for smaller producers to continue farming and for beginning farmers to get started. The farm safety net ought to be limited to help farmers weather the storms of natural disasters and unpredictable commodity markets. It should not be a massive hammock that enables large operators to get bigger and bigger at taxpayer expense. That's why I keep working to uphold the integrity of farm programs. First, consider the food stamp program. It's intended to help prevent low-income families, particularly kids and seniors, from missing meals and going to bed hungry. Tightening work requirements for SNAP recipients would help shore up the program's integrity and stretch scarce resources to serve those most in need. Likewise, tightening eligibility requirements in Title 1 of the Farm Bill would help ensure that people who are actively engaged in the farming operation are the ones who benefit. Secondly, Congress needs to enact enforceable farm payment limitations so that the safety net works as intended, to help medium- and small-sized farmers who are part of the social fabric of our rural communities.
National Ag Week is celebrated March 21 - March 27, 2023. Senator Grassley is a lifelong family farmer in New Hartford and serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee.