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Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman Conaway Farm Bill Conference Meeting to Consider H.R. 2

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Chairman Roberts, Ranking Members Peterson and Stabenow, fellow members of the conference committee, good morning. And good morning to all who have gathered here today to discuss a matter of great importance and urgency: the 2018 Farm Bill. 

Many of you read last week that USDA is projecting that net farm income will be down another 13 percent this year. Producer incomes are roughly half of what they were when farm bill conferees last met back in October 2013. Put simply, we are in the fifth year of a severe recession in farm country, and it doesn’t appear to be letting up any time soon. 

Farm bankruptcies are up 39 percent over the past 2 years alone. Yet, in the face of these conditions, USDA also projects that spending on the farm safety net will actually drop significantly as the Agricultural Risk Coverage program withers under the strain of the current farm economy. 

While the farm bill covers a wide range of important policies, I submit that it is the primary job of this conference committee to provide—as Chairman Roberts would say—the predictability and stability of a farm safety net. 

Thus far in the process, we have honored calls from across the country to do no harm to crop insurance. Back in 2000, Senator Roberts and his colleagues—including two House members who represented portions of my district, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest and Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm—worked hard to craft a crop insurance system that works for farmers and ranchers. The framework is in place so policies may be fine-tuned in order to work for all of our producers. We do right in safeguarding this critical achievement. 

There is much in the farm bill that is worth protecting—and there are also some critical mission areas that need improving. Beyond protecting crop insurance, I would submit that at a time when there is so much uncertainty for farmers and ranchers, including on the trade front, that this conference committee should do absolutely nothing in regard to trade promotion and food aid programs that would inflict harm on our farmers and ranchers. 

In regard to areas needing improvement, perhaps nobody knows better than my ranking member just how badly we need a well-funded animal disease preparedness and response program. Mr. Peterson’s state suffered significantly due to avian influenza, and we need to prevent additional outbreaks in the future. We put strong funding in the House farm bill, and Mr. Peterson’s motion to instruct, which was overwhelmingly approved in the House, urges us to go further. 

Another area that must be safeguarded and improved is the commodity title. The commodity title provides the safety net that is so desperately needed right now by our farmers and ranchers. After all, helping struggling farmers and ranchers weather the current storm is the driving force behind getting this farm bill done—and done on time. We need to be putting more resources into the farm safety net—not less. 

There are certainly areas of disagreement between the two chambers—disagreements that stretch far beyond the nutrition title and are plainly reflected in our respective versions of the farm bill. But the good news is that I have seen no disagreement that should prevent us from completing a strong farm bill on time. Even on SNAP, I have repeatedly stressed that we are willing and able to come to consensus with the Senate. 

Finally, I want to conclude my remarks by extending my gratitude to Secretary Perdue and his team. They have been of great help throughout this process, and we are very fortunate to have the right man in the right place at the right time. 

I also want to thank the committee staff—both Democrat and Republican in both the House and the Senate—for all of their work behind the scenes to get us to this point over the past year. You’ve given up weekends, and holidays, and time with your families. So, thank you for all the work you have done and will do as we race to finish the farm bill.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I pledge to you and all of my colleagues—and above all to farm and ranch country and rural America—that I am ready and willing to remain in Washington and work every day until this farm bill is enacted into law. 

At the start of this year, very few thought we would get this far. We’ve come too far not to finish the job. 

Let’s get this done. 

Thank you.