Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Published September 28 2013
Letter: Stand up for ND farmersFarmers across the United States are suffering because of uncertainty created in Washington. Nowhere is this uncertainty hurting us more than in North Dakota. We are a state steeped in agriculture, and it is a vital part of our economy. The time for political fighting must end. We need to pass a long-term, comprehensive farm bill to protect farmers, ranchers and low-income families.
North Dakota is the No. 1 producer of 13 key domestic crops grown on our farms. From wheat and barley to beans and sunflowers, we do it all. Agriculture feeds our families. It creates jobs throughout North Dakota. In other states, the farm bill may not be as much of a priority, but in North Dakota, it means a world of difference.
Passing a farm bill has been my top priority since I joined the Senate. And in June, the Senate passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan, comprehensive, and long-term farm bill, which I supported. The bill is the product of compromise, which means everybody gives a little in order to come to an agreement that serves the greater good.
The Senate-passed bill offers farmers and ranchers certainty. The bill responsibly saves $24 billion in federal funding by improving farm programs and making them more efficient. The compromise protects the more than 16 million American jobs supported by agriculture. It helps strengthen our rural communities as agriculture continues to grow.
There’s just one problem: Republicans in the House of Representatives don’t want to compromise. Despite the strong bipartisan support of the Senate bill, the House decided to go in a different direction, splitting up the farm programs and nutrition assistance programs into two separate bills. The House slashed nutrition assistance for about 4 million low-income working parents, children, seniors, veterans and people who are disabled. Not only is this a reckless direction to take, but it also jeopardizes passage of a farm bill in Congress; such stark cuts won’t pass the Senate.
For the past five decades, the farm bill has not been a political issue. Forged through decades of a successful rural-urban coalition in Congress, the farm bill has supported programs that provide a safety-net for families struggling through economic crises at home and farmers experiencing catastrophe in the field. Once these pieces are separated, the rural-urban coalition collapses and the support needed to defend farm programs deteriorates. This is what House Republicans are hoping to accomplish.
We all need to wake up and realize the detrimental impact that not having a farm bill will have on our lives.
I will continue to fight tooth and nail to stand up for farmers and ranchers across North Dakota. I hope the House will come to the table and join me so that we can provide the certainty our farmers and ranchers desperately need to remain strong for decades to come. We can do better, and now is the time to seize that opportunity with a strong farm bill.
Heitkamp, D-N.D., is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.