While we are increasingly becoming known for big companies like Coca-Cola, UPS and Delta, or for the huge volume of goods that pass through our ports, agriculture remains Georgia’s largest industry.
The hard work of our many farmers, ranchers and producers contributes $71.1 billion to our economy each year. Six in 10 Georgians are employed in food or food production.
Last week, the House voted for the most substantial reforms to farm programs in history. The legislation is the product of more than 40 hearings, four years of debate and a top-to-bottom audit of every program administered by the Department of Agriculture. The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act repeals or consolidates 100 programs administered by the USDA and saves taxpayers $20 billion. It cuts payouts to farmers who do not farm or when the agriculture economy is doing well. Direct payments are replaced with a market-based risk-management approach that builds on the success of crop insurance, reduces taxpayer exposure to risk and lays the groundwork for additional savings.
The FARRM Act keeps regulation of farms out of the hands of the bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency, which tried to apply the same regulations to milk that it does to crude oil because both are oil-based. Talk about crying over spilt milk!
It also achieves a long-term goal of conservatives by splitting legislation for federal farm programs and nutrition-assistance programs. Unfortunately, food stamps have come to dominate farm bills and accounted for about 80 percent of the most-recent bill’s cost. Washington rarely gets big things right, and splitting the two forces additional oversight and much-needed reforms both for farm and nutrition programs.
Finally, the FARRM Act repeals farms laws passed in 1938 and 1947, to which federal farm policy reverts when farm bills expire as the current extension is set to in September. This creates a modern baseline for farm policy that recognizes the great advances we have made over the past 75 years.
Can we go further is cutting federal spending? Of course we can. I remain focused on identifying ways to save taxpayer dollars and to make government more account-able, effective and efficient.
Enacting this legislation will give our farmers, ranchers and producers the certainty they need to focus on what they do best: providing America and the world with a safe, abundant and affordable food supply. It cuts spending and lays the groundwork for additional savings through structural reforms to federal farm programs.
Failure to enact these reforms continues the status quo, allowing bloated and duplicative programs to continue unchecked. It would mean leaving in place uncertainty that drives up the cost of food and makes us more reliant on foreign sources for food and goods.
I always will vote for legislation that cuts spending, reduces government interference in our lives and supports private-sector growth and job creation. Last week, the FARRM Act gave me the chance to do just that.
Kingston, R-Ga., serves Georgia’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Liberty and Long counties.