Saying work on a new farm bill is poised to take a backseat in the legislative process, Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, is speaking out in support of bipartisan cooperation to address the needs of agriculture and warns failure to take up long-term ag reform this year needs to move from the backseat to the front burner.

In a statement released this week, Cuellar says America’s Founding Fathers were farmers who understood the value of producing goods at home rather than relying on imports to sustain the nation and warned failure to move forward with a new farm bill “will leave the engine of the world’s most efficient agriculture industry wavering in the uncertainty of what the future holds.

“The remainder of the 112th Congress is likely to be consumed by the debate of a variety of long-term pieces of legislation, including corporate tax reform, surface transportation funding and debt reduction provisions. Unfortunately, the likelihood of Congress taking up long-term agricultural reform legislation…is less promising,” says Cuellar.

Cuellar’s 28th Congressional District, which runs from New Braunfels and just south of San Antonio west to the Texas-Mexican border and south again to encompass the western half of the Rio Grande Valley, is rich in farm and ranch country.

Why a backseat?

Cuellar says he is uncertain why farm legislation should take a backseat to other major issues this year when bipartisan support for farm legislation four years ago passed with over 300 lawmakers in favor of it. He says U.S. agriculture has shown positive growth during the economic downturn of recent years and believes positive reform now could pave the way for continued growth.

“Agriculture has been the steady force in our recovery. In the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in American history, net farm income in 2010 and 2011 hit record highs. These gains have insulated our communities from further job losses and kept grocery prices low,” he says. “For all the talk about making it in America, American agricultural producers posted a record $44 billion trade surplus in FY 2011. This includes a record $137 billion of U.S. farm exports.”

According to the prepared statement, despite an overall trade deficit with the Chinese of $273 billion in 2010, the United States posted a $14.1 billion agricultural trade surplus with China – further proof of American efficiency competing on an even playing field. Because of the high demand, he says China has now surpassed Canada to become the top American market for agricultural exports in FY 2011.