Hurricane Isaac brought much-needed rain to parts of the Midwest farm belt this week, but experts say it's unlikely to break the worst drought this country has seen in half a century. This is bad news for American farmers - and small farmers, in particular - who were struggling even before the drought.
This crisis highlights the need to take appropriate steps to make sure these farmers can continue to contribute to the viability and health of our Agriculture economy and our general population - after the drought, yes, but also for many years to come.
The Administration has announced a number of new measures it is taking to assist drought-stricken Americans, including USDA's assistance for livestock and crop producers, the National Credit Union Administration's increased capacity for lending to customers including farmers, and the U.S. Department of Transportation's emergency waivers for federal truck weight regulations and hours of service requirements to drought-stricken communities.
These efforts will undoubtedly go a long way toward helping farmers and ranchers recover. But there are more steps that can be taken to strengthen rural America, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America's farmers and ranchers. Namely, we need to pass a farm bill. And with the current bill set to expire on September 30, and we need to do it now.
The 2012 Farm Bill offers more coverage to farmers and ranchers through enhanced crop insurance to address weather disasters as the drought. This would be less costly to taxpayers than having to respond to the farm communities after each weather disaster.
Further, the proposed Farm Bill will help provide infrastructure, investment and economic certainty for American agriculture - things that are both important and critical for an industry that impacts all Americans, whether they live in big cities or small rural communities. It will help producers recover from disasters like this drought, and will protect consumers from the effects of uncertainty - things like spikes in food prices and more.
The new farm bill is written and awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives, but there has been a real lack of commitment from our elected officials to push this bill.
Meanwhile, small farmers across the country are struggling. They are a declining and aging population. According to the Economic Research Services in United States Department of Agriculture, during the last census there were over 2.1 million farms in the U.S., of which 75% earned less than $50,000 annually and had about 5% production while the very large farms, representing just 2% of all farms, made over $1 million dollars and had 47% production.
This is a problem when you consider small farmers generally produce more fruits, vegetables, nuts and sustainable food products, all of which are essential for proper nutritional sustenance. In an era of increased awareness around the benefits of healthy eating and living, the need to ensure small farmers can continue to play this key role is clear - and taking steps to ensure their future vitality should be a top priority.
The food security of our country and the world is dependent upon our small farmers and ranchers being able to survive economically.
It's time for Congress to stop the fighting and act on this critical, important and timely issue.
With so much at stake, our country cannot afford to let this slide by. We need a new farm bill now.
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