“Americans spend, on average, about 6 to 7 cents out of every dollar they earn on food. This is far less than families around the world.  It gives us the freedom and the flexibility to spend or invest in other parts of the economy. And today I'm proud to say that agriculture is a bright spot in the American economy. 

“After adjusting for inflation, farming income today is at its highest level in nearly 40 years, farm debt is falling, and farm equity is growing. In short, American agriculture is on sound footing. But we didn't get here by accident. 

“We're here because of the policies and the investments that have been made over the course of many decades. We're here because we've focused on three core principles that have helped to shape the success of American agriculture, and those principles need to be protected and advanced as Congress works on legislation.

“The three principles can be simply stated: We need to maintain a strong safety net, we need to support sustainable productivity, and we need to promote vibrant markets. As they work on this bill, Congress must agree on the right mix of policies to provide an adequate safety net for those who need it.  High input costs means agriculture will always remain a high risk. A bad crop, ruined by a natural disaster or an unpredictable price collapse, can put a hard-working farm family out of business quickly. These families rely on a strong safety net.

“This year I visited farms across the country who were devastated by natural disasters. I met farmers this spring who were never able to plant a crop because their land was flooded.  I saw fires and droughts in the southwest destroy forests and grazing land. And this fall I stood in fields of fruits and vegetables that were ready for harvest but were ruined by Hurricane Irene. It was a visceral reminder of how important the safety net is for our farmers, ranchers, and our producers.

“In my conversations with these producers, I heard about parts of the safety net that are working pretty well. I also heard about parts that weren't. The SURE program isn't sure enough or swift enough, ACRE is not simple enough, and crop insurance may not cover enough.

“There are a few things that came up over and over again in my conversations with these farmers, and they need to be addressed in the next farm bill. Farmers recognize that the safety net makeup will likely change, but the production and protection it affords ought not to be compromised. And here are several keys to make sure that that protection and production are protected:

“First, producers need assistance quickly after they lose their crops to a natural disaster. Their bankers are not going to wait two years to make loan payments and receive those loan payments, and they can't expect — nor can we expect — our producers to wait two years to have the safety net kick in.

“Second, the safety net needs to reflect the diversity of American agriculture. That is to say, it needs to work for all kinds of farms.  It can't favor the planting of one crop over another. It needs to make sense for farmers, and it needs to work for ranchers. It's got to work for row crop farmers in Iowa, specialty crop producers in upstate New York, cattle ranchers in Texas, or rice or cotton farmers in Louisiana.