Op-Ed: Why does Puerto Rico need a Farm Bill now?
This fall, Congress has an important opportunity to create jobs and grow the economy by passing a long-term, comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. The Farm Bill impacts every American, every day by providing a wide range of programs that strengthen our nation.
The Farm Bill is crucial to maintaining a strong agriculture sector and an abundant food supply that benefits all Americans. Over the past two years, producers have faced a multitude of disasters — from drought, to flooding, to blizzards. These events demonstrate how important the safety net is to keeping producers going strong. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, the Farm Service Agency was able to provide $11.7 million in disaster assistance in Puerto Rico using Farm Bill programs.
A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would provide a strong crop insurance program, reauthorize the now-expired disaster assistance programs, and provide retroactive assistance for livestock producers. By reforming the safety net to eliminate the direct payment program — which pays producers whether or not they are in need of assistance — the Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would also save billions of dollars in the next decade.
In addition, it would allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue export promotion efforts that have led to the best five-year period in agricultural trade in American history, and provide the Farm Service Agency with the tools to extend additional farm credit in Puerto Rico.
The Farm Bill is also a job creation bill that would empower the USDA to partner with rural communities to grow, expand and support new businesses.
A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would help Main Street businesses grow and hire more, strengthen infrastructure in our small towns and provide new opportunities in bio-based product manufacturing and renewable energy.
For example, in Puerto Rico, the USDA has provided more than 20 projects since 2009 to help farmers, ranchers and rural businesses save energy through the Rural Energy for America Program. This and many other efforts could continue with a new Farm Bill.
A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would make important investments in nutrition programs that provide critical assistance to vulnerable Americans, including children, seniors, people with disabilities who are unable to work, and returning veterans. It would enable the USDA to continue our work with more than 500,000 producers and landowners to conserve the soil and water. It would undertake new strategies to improve agricultural research, and it would ensure a safe food supply.
All of these efforts strengthen our nation. A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would continue the job growth we’ve seen in recent years and help grow the rural economy. That’s why President Obama has identified passage of a new Farm Bill as one of his top three legislative priorities this fall.
This is a prime opportunity to give America’s farmers, ranchers and producers the certainty they need about the next five years of U.S. farm policy, while investing in the rural communities that stand at the heart of our values. The Farm Bill has stood as a model of bipartisan consensus for decades and it is high time that both Democrats and Republicans come to a compromise on this new Farm Bill.
It is our hope that Senate and House conferees will reach a consensus quickly and move a Farm Bill forward as soon as possible.