I consider it an honor to serve a district in which agriculture is the largest employer, accounting for more than 93,000 jobs and an $11 billion economic impact.
It’s why, during my time on the House Agriculture Committee, I was proud to help craft a new Farm Bill that delivers more modern, conservative and sustainable policy for our farmers. It’s why, now, as a Member of the Appropriations Committee, I have remained diligent in making sure the promises we made in the Farm Bill are kept.
We faced a challenge late last year when the crop insurance program was gutted in the budget. This is the risk management system we promised farmers to help transition away from the old system of direct payments from the government. Cutting it was unfair, which was a chief reason why I voted against the budget and helped rally support among my colleagues to help restore the crop insurance program before the end of the year.
I’m glad we worked it out in the end, but it represented a serious disconnect. You see, not everyone I work with in Congress represents a district with such a significant agricultural footprint. I frequently remind my colleagues that when it comes to farm policy, we aren’t just affecting the farmer who puts the seed in the ground. We are affecting the ones who sell the seed, who build the equipment to cultivate and harvest the crop, and those who help process the goods to their final products. That farming dollar turns over many times, and there is an entire agriculture supply chain that is affected by farm policies set by Congress. When Washington politicians mess around with farm policy, they are messing around with the livelihoods of the people I represent.
On Friday I attended the Wiregrass Cotton Expo in Dothan. These are difficult times for the cotton industry in Alabama, as the global market has driven prices down and poor weather conditions have devastated many planters in our state.
I’m working with fellow Members of Congress to get the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow cottonseed to be designated as an oil seed under the Farm Bill and therefore qualify cotton crops for the Price Loss Coverage program. The USDA declined this initial request, as Secretary Tom Vilsack told us he lacks the authority to designate cottonseed that way.
That’s obviously disappointing. But, you know what I find interesting? When they really want to, the Obama Administration can find the executive authority to justify almost anything. Whether it is immigration or gun control or carve outs in the health care law or the EPA regulating puddles and ditches on your land, this Administration clearly doesn’t feel bound by legal or constitutional constraints. But, when it comes to a real crisis in agriculture that affects us, suddenly the Secretary of Agriculture claims he doesn’t have the authority.
I don’t know what the solution will ultimately be, but we will keep working to find one. My farmers know I have their back and I always will as long as I’m in Congress.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband, Riley and their two children.