The Senate Ag Committee started its markup of the 2012 Farm Bill this morning. The initial 900-page document could face more than 100 amendments. Here's the official statement issued by Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Ag Committee:
"This Committee is unique. Our hearing room doesn't have a raised dais; instead we sit together around a table, not unlike the tables that America's farmers sit around after a long day's work. The work we do around this table is hard. Farm Bills are never easy. And a Farm Bill like this is especially hard when we're making serious and needed reforms while also cutting the deficit by $23 billion.
"We examined every program in the Farm Bill, and we reformed, streamlined, and consolidated to get perhaps the most significant reforms in agricultural policy of any Farm Bill in recent memory.
"We've listened to farmers, strengthened crop insurance, and made that the centerpiece of risk management.
"We have a risk management tool that supplements crop insurance that will work for farmers and save money.
"Some of our members wanted an individual system; some wanted a county system – so we are giving farmers flexibility to decide what's the best for their farm and the risks they face.
"We have the tightest payment limits ever, and I want to thank Senator Grassley for his tireless work on this issue.
"We now have one, simplified limit on income: $750,000.
"We will give farmers the assistance they need when there are losses and it will be based on what they actually plant.
"The era of direct payments is over.
"We are striking a balance among the different regions and commodities.
"We will now have a permanent baseline for livestock disaster assistance, and I want to thank Senator Baucus for his hard work and advocacy on this issue.
"In short, we put together a bipartisan Farm Bill that's focused on farmers and that gives them simplicity, flexibility, and real accountability.
"We are continuing the incredible work that gets done every day because of the Conservation title. We are reducing complexity and refocusing programs to better support farmers and landowners who protect our land, water, and wildlife. We are increasing flexibility and transparency to make sure every dollar does the most good.
"We are continuing our nation's commitment to those most in need. Everywhere I go in Michigan, I hear from people who never in their lives imagined they would need food assistance. We need every dollar going to those who need it, not to waste, fraud, and abuse.
"We are expanding export opportunities, investing in critical agricultural research, and supporting innovative bio-energy and bio-based manufacturing companies who are creating jobs all across the country.
"We recognize the diversity of American agriculture, with a renewed commitment to specialty crops and organic farms as well as support for farmers' markets and food hubs.
"We streamlined the Rural Development title. We ended 16 authorizations that either have never gotten funding or were duplicative of other efforts, so that we could extend and simplify rural development loans that have proven effective for rural job-creators and local infrastructure projects.
"This Farm Bill is a jobs bill, and you can see that in every title and on every page. America is the world leader in agricultural exports, and that success is not only critically important for our economy and the 16 million people whose jobs rely on agriculture, but also for our national security. That's why we are so committed to get this done this year, and this markup is the first step in that process.
"I want to thank all of our wonderful staff for their excellent work. And I want to thank the Department of Agriculture for all of their hard work and help as we've gone through this process.
"I also want to thank every member of this committee, who have brought good ideas to the table, and worked hard in good faith to get us to today's mark-up.
"And I want to especially thank my great partner, Senator Roberts, for all of the long hours and hard work we have done together to write a farm bill that make sense for our farmers and ranchers, rural communities and American taxpayers and consumers. This has been a long and winding road, and I appreciate our partnership.