Editor's Note: U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, made the following speech to the U.S. Senate on June 7 at the beginning of the 2012 Farm Bill debate by the full Senate.
"Mr. President – As I grew up on my family's farm outside of New Hartford, Iowa, where I still live today, I grew to appreciate what it meant to be a farmer. The dictionary defines a farmer as "a person who cultivates land or crops or raises animals". But that definition doesn't come close to fully describing what a farmer is.
"Being a farmer means someone willing to help a cow deliver her calf in the middle of the night, when its 5 degrees outside. A farmer is someone willing to put all their earthly possessions at risk just to put a bunch of seeds in the ground and hope that those seeds get rain at just the right time.
"Farmers work hard cultivating their crops and get the satisfaction of seeing the result of their hard work at the end of each crop season. They take great pride in knowing they are feeding this nation and world. And farmers tend to be people who relish the independence that comes with their chosen profession. They are people with dirt under their fingernails. They work long hours. And often are underappreciated for what they do to put food on American dinner tables. And they receive an ever shrinking share of the food dollar.
New farm bill needs to offer risk management provisions for farmers
"Farmers have chosen a line of work that comes with risk, risk that is inherent and often out of farmers' control. The risk inherent in farming is why we have a farm program. If we want a stable food supply in this country, we need farmers who are able to produce it. When they are hit by floods, droughts, natural disasters, wild market swings, or unfair international barriers to their products, farmers need the support to make it through. Most farmers I know wish there wasn't the need for a government safety-net, but they appreciate that it's there when they do need it.
"And for decade after decade, Congress has maintained farm programs because the American people understand the necessity of providing a safety net for those providing our food. That's not to say each and every farm program ever created needs to continue. Just as there are shifts in the market, sometimes public sentiment towards certain farm programs shifts.
Take direct payments for instance. There was a time and place for direct payments, to help farmers through some lean years. But now, times are okay in the agriculture industry, and the American people have rightly decided it is time for direct payments to end. The Senate Committee has responded, and we have proposed eliminating the direct payment program. And many farmers agree direct payments should go away.
No reason why government should be subsidizing big farmers to get even bigger
"There are other reforms the American taxpayers want to see. There is no reason the federal government should be subsidizing big farmers to get even bigger. People are tired of reading reports about the largest 10% of farmers receiving nearly 70% of agriculture subsidies. And you know what, most farmers agree with that as well. Many farmers understand that in order for us to have a farm program that is defensible and justifiable, it needs to be a program designed to help the small and medium-size farmers who actually need assistance getting through rough patches out of their control. The Senate Agriculture committee listened, and placed a payment limit of $50,000 per individual in this bill, $100,000 for married couples, for the payments under the Agricultural Risk Coverage program.
"Taxpayers are equally tired of reading reports about how so many non-farmers receive farm payments. I have been working to get reforms in farm payment eligibility for years. And just as the tide has turned on the status quo for direct payments, the tide has turned on payment eligibility. This bill contains crucial reform to the "actively engaged" requirements. These reforms will ensure farm payments go to actual farmers. The American people are not going to stand idly by anymore and watch farm payments head out the door to people who don't really farm.
Some people are complaining about proposed payment limit reforms
"There have been some people complaining about the payment limit reforms. They complain that it will detrimentally change the way some farm operations do things. Well, if they mean it won't allow non-farmers to skirt around payment eligibility, and line their pockets with taxpayer money meant for actual farmers, then yes, these reforms will impact those farming operations. But let me make it perfectly clear, the reforms contained in this bill will not impact a farmer's ability to receive farm payments. Furthermore, the reforms will not affect the spouse rule.
"These reforms reflect what we hear from the grassroots - which is Congress needs to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars. That's true if we are talking about the farm program, or any other federal program. Those who are against these reforms, are asking the American people to accept the status quo, and continue to watch as farm payments go to mega-farms and non-farmers. We cannot, and will not accept the status quo.
"The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee should be proud of the improvements we are making to payment limitations in this bill. With these reforms, we bring defensibility and integrity to this farm bill. In fact, without these reforms to the farm program, I wouldn't be able to support this bill. I urge my colleagues to voice their support for these important payment limit provisions, and join with me in resisting any attempt to weaken these reforms."