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Sen. Pat Roberts: Don't Play Politics With Our Food

U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) |Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Wednesday, 15 Aug 2012 | 8:47 AM ET
Corn plants dry in a drought-stricken farm field on July 17, 2012 near Fritchton, Indiana. The corn and soybean belt in the middle of the nation is experiencing one of the worst droughts in more than five decades.
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Corn plants dry in a drought-stricken farm field on July 17, 2012 near Fritchton, Indiana. The corn and soybean belt in the middle of the nation is experiencing one of the worst droughts in more than five decades.

Drought is not just a problem in farm country. Its immediate and long term consequences will affect all consumers and the U.S. economy as a whole.

In this historic drought, we are facing high temperatures and little moisture across two thirds of the nation and there is no relief in sight.

Anyone who makes a living dealing with mother nature has to have a back-up plan. For most farmers, there is crop insurance. It is a safety net where a farmer must put his own skin in the game to buy a policy that protects his operation from losses like this disaster, or from market fluctuations. Usually, crop insurance allows farmers to cover most of their expenses so that they can stay in business and try again the next year. (Related: Crop Insurance Set to Expand Despite Growing Fraud Worries)

Those hit hardest by this emergency in America are our livestock producers. As a result of the shrinking corn and soybean crops, feed prices have increased nearly 40 percent since June.

In addition, water supplies have dried up for many livestock producers. Many producers in my state have been forced to eliminate their herd. This drives the price of beef down in the short term and could put some producers out of business. Some of these Kansas producers also suffered from drought last year, so the damage to grazing land and genetics of the herd has already been done.

Unfortunately, the authors of the five-year 2008 farm bill ended critical livestock disaster programs one year early as a budget gimmick to fund other priorities. Today our livestock producers are the victims of that decision.

The House of Representatives acted swiftly to pass a key, bipartisan drought assistance billto help livestock producers that simply extends these expired programs. The bill they approved was fully paid for and returned $256 million to the Treasury. The Senate Democrat leadership failed to even consider the bill before leaving town for the August recess. (Related: Obama Announces Measures to Soothe Drought Pain)

Every day that passes without livestock disaster assistance is another day that producers are forced to reduce their herds. The more cattle that are culled this year, the longer it will take the U.S. herd to recover, and the higher beef prices will be next year when supplies are low.

We need to approve this drought assistance to ensure livestock producers can continue providing us with the most affordable and safe food supply in the world.

And, we need to pass a farm bill. As with all businesses in this down economy, people need certainty from the federal government to make plans for the year. This is especially critical for farmers and ranchers because the current farm bill expires on September 30. Allowing the bill to expire does nothing for our economy, but passing a farm bill will. A farm bill will help producers recover from disasters like this drought, and will protect all consumers from the effects of uncertainty. We shouldn’t play politics with our food.

U.S. Senator Pat Robertsis a Kansan through and through. He was born in Topeka, graduated from Holton High School and went on to earn his journalism degree from K-State – and proudly wears the purple to this day. He always puts Kansas’ needs and concerns front and center in his public service career. For 16 years, he represented the Big First District, including his home of Dodge City, in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1996, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He is currently serving his third term.

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