Five years ago, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was running for president against incumbent Barack Obama. Five years ago, London played host to the Summer Olympics. Five years ago, I only had four grandchildren.
Flash-forward to today. President Trump has been president for eight months. Michael Phelps swam in the London Olympics and Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and has since announced his retirement. My wife, Robin, and I now have 12 beautiful grandchildren.
Sometimes five years can feel like a lifetime – and in the case of our farmers and those in the agriculture industry, it’s only once every five years that Congress gets the opportunity to change agriculture policy through the Farm Bill.
Agriculture is not only the No. 1 industry in Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, but the No. 1 industry in the entire state of Georgia. Having grown up on a Hereford cattle farm, I know firsthand the uncertainty that farmers can face on the farm and in the field, and that’s why it is critical to pass a timely Farm Bill that ensures our farmers have the protections they need.
Our district has a very unique agricultural makeup. Not only do we have acres of peanuts and cotton, large poultry farms and one of the largest lumber producers in the world, but we also produce specialty crops such as blueberries and sweet Vidalia onions. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I have a front-row seat as Congress begins to draft the next Farm Bill. It’s this unique agricultural landscape I will keep in mind as I have the opportunity to help shape agricultural policy for the next five years.
The House Agriculture Committee already has been hard at work, playing host to a series of hearings that touch on issues such as commodity programs; university research; technology and innovation; and even rural infrastructure. But nothing beats being in the field and hearing from the folks that are affected most – our farmers.
That’s why I embarked on a farm tour across the 12th district this past week, because the best way for me to advocate for our farmers is to hear directly from them. From Waynesboro to Baxley and everywhere in between, I heard many of the same refrains: Protect the programs that work and reform the programs that don’t.
In Bulloch County, I had the opportunity to meet with cotton farmers, and they lamented how the STAX program has failed them. This is one of the main issues I heard repeated by nearly all of the cotton farmers I met with. The last Farm Bill was written when cotton prices were at an all-time high, and now cotton prices are very low. There is no better time than now to be having these discussions as we look forward to the Farm Bill.
I am working hard with my colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee to authorize a commodity policy for cotton farmers so they will be eligible for a safety net program that works for them like other covered commodities under Title I of the 2014 Farm Bill.
I also visited with blueberry farmers who gave me a tour of their operations and spoke to me about how their business has been over the past few years. As with all farmers, they know that a good harvest is not always God-given, and during this year’s late-season freeze, their blueberry crop was badly damaged. As a result, our blueberry farmers had to rely heavily on crop insurance to make up for the loss. It was essential that their crop insurance agents immediately assessed the crop to report the damage to ensure the health and vitality of future crop harvests.
Not only is crop insurance important to blueberry farmers, but it’s also critical for our farmers who produce peanuts, cotton and other row crops. Hearing about their personal experiences, I can’t imagine leaving our farmers without this lifeline.
There are some aspects of the 2014 Farm Bill that are working well for our 12th District farmers, but some that are definitely failing them. Thank you to all of our local farmers who welcomed me this past week! Your firsthand knowledge and input of the industry that works day-in and day-out to feed and clothe our nation will be invaluable as I head back to work with my Agriculture Committee colleagues.
Many legislators will tell you the Farm Bill is one of the most difficult bills to write because of the diversity of the American agricultural landscape. As your representative, I am committed to working to craft a Farm Bill that works best for farmers in Georgia’s 12th Congressional District.
I have high hopes for the next five years. I am hopeful we can craft a Farm Bill that will help our farmers thrive here in the 12th district and across America so we can continue production of the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world.
The writer was elected to Congress in 2014.