Weekly Columns

Farm Bill Passage Brings Certainty to Rural America

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Washington, December 12, 2018 | comments

I am very proud one of the House Republicans’ final actions this Congress will be to ensure long-term certainty for rural America with today’s passage of the conference report for H.R. 2, the Farm Bill. I support this bipartisan agreement, which passed the House today by a vote of 369 to 47, because I will never apologize for taking care of our farmers. America wouldn’t be as strong as we are today without our agriculture community. With a decline in net farming income of 52 percent over the past five years and the average age of farmers drastically rising, we need to ensure our farmers have an adequate safety net to continue producing for generations to come. This bill contains wins for America’s farmers, ranchers, rural communities and consumers, and provides farmers with five years of much needed stability.  

This legislation includes critical provisions needed to maintain a strong safety net for the agriculture community. Specifically, it reauthorizes and improves critical crop insurance programs, expands trade promotion initiatives such as the Market Access Program to sell American goods abroad; and it ensures small family farms have access to research and agriculture extension programs to increase their crop yields. These programs all give our local farmers in East Tennessee the ability to access and compete in markets around the world. 

In recent years, our farmers have faced depressed market prices, drought and other natural disasters forcing our farmers to rely on a safety net to keep their businesses operating in lean years. This bill expands insurance by providing coverage for forage producers and makes improvements to whole farm revenue coverage for specialty crop producers. This legislation also enhances protections for dairy farmers, including those in East Tennessee, by ensuring our dairy safety net is accessible to producers of all sizes. Programs like Price Loss Coverage, Agriculture Risk Coverage, Commodity Loans, Dairy Margin Coverage, Livestock Disaster Programs and Crop Insurance all have been maintained or strengthened. It also includes vital funding for animal disease prevention and management initiatives to keep livestock – and consumers – healthy. This ensures public safety is our highest priority, and includes the stockpiling of foot-and-mouth disease vaccines should they ever be needed.

Finally, I am pleased this bill includes the Tennessee Wilderness Act, a bill that I introduced in the House and worked with Senators Alexander and Corker to protect land in East Tennessee. This legislation will include wilderness protection for Big Laurel Branch in Carter and Johnson Counties and Sampson Mountain in Washington and Unicoi Counties, among other areas. This land was already part of Cherokee National Forest, but this wilderness designation will ensure the area remains protected for future generations. 

While I believe we should have done more with respect to work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in the final bill, I was pleased the bill made some changes to the SNAP program integrity that will ensure current work requirements are harder to waive entirely. It seems to me that we should be encouraging all Americans to work who are able instead of simply providing unconditional assistance, particularly at a time where jobs are readily available. 

Still, the 2018 Farm Bill does include provisions that I believe will help East Tennessee’s farmers for the next 5 years. Over the past four years, I’ve held numerous meetings across the district with farmers and other local agriculture stakeholders, and I am hopeful this legislation will meet the needs of our area. It will now head to President Trump’s desk for signature. 


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