According the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, Ohio and most of the U.S. are in the midst of the most severe and extensive drought in at least 25 years. What looked to be a bumper crop this spring is now coming up dry.
Agriculture and food contribute to more than $107 billion dollars to our state’s economy each year. And one out of every seven Ohio jobs is connected to growing, processing and distributing the food we eat.
But with nearly 40 percent of agricultural land—and 65 percent of farms across the country – experiencing drought this year, much of Ohio farmers’ production is in jeopardy. While this year’s weather has been particularly extreme, farmers face the prospect of bad weather every year.
That’s why, time and again—in roundtables and over coffee, on farms and at forums—Ohioans have told me that they need a strong farm bill. And I’m fighting for one.
In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan, five-year farm bill that includes a stronger and more market-oriented safety net, better crop insurance, a streamlined package of conservation programs, and provisions that save taxpayers more than $23 billion over the next ten years.
The bill also includes and makes permanent disaster assistance for producers who lose livestock, trees, and fruit and vegetable production due to natural disasters such as drought, fire, and frost. Many of these programs were included in the 2008 farm bill, but expired last year. Without action, critical risk management and disaster assistance programs like these won’t be there for farmers who need them.
Providing farmers the assistance they need to get through the ongoing drought is a shared priority. But in Washington, there is currently a difference of opinion as to how to provide this assistance.
My preference is to pass a bipartisan five-year farm bill—like the Senate’s Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act—that includes substantial disaster assistance, farm program reform, investments in conservation and rural communities, while also reducing the deficit.
Unfortunately, instead of passing the Senate’s bipartisan farm bill, the U.S. House of Representatives is opting for a disaster package that fails to provide producers with long-term certainty and the smarter, more efficient safety net they deserve. To add insult to injury, the House finances this temporary solution with significant cuts to long-term investments in soil, water, and wildlife conservation.
As of last week, five Ohio counties – Fulton, Williams, Defiance, Paulding, and Van Wert – were among the 1,300 counties nationwide that have been designated as disaster areas by the USDA. And although some USDA emergency loan programs are available today, farmers and livestock producers need certainty to plan and manage their businesses for the long-term.
The current farm bill is set to expire on Sept. 30. We can’t let this happen. Ohio farmers and ranchers need a long-term bill to pull them through this summer’s drought, and assist them as they continue in the future. The 2012 farm bill must help Ohio’s rural communities to create jobs and strengthen our economy.
That’s why I will continue to fight to pass a five-year farm bill. It’s the responsible thing to do and in the midst of drought, Ohio agriculture depends on it.
Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.