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MARKETS NEEDED: Millions of bushels of grain stored in bunkers across farm country are a sign of the times: too many bushels, too few markets. Sen. Roberts says he will fight for the best deal in the farm bill, but that farmers need to be “ready to saddle up and ride” to demand trade agreements.

Senate Ag Committee chairman expects farm bill vote in March

Sen. Roberts urged farmers to be ready to ‘sound off’ in support of farmer-friendly legislation.

March will be the month the 2018 Farm Bill comes to the Senate floor. At least that’s the best guess of Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

“I’d like to see us vote in February, but we seem to have a few things to get out of the way, like a Continuing Resolution, something about a wall and all those questions about immigration — and I think that’s going to eat up all the time in February and push the farm bill into March,” Roberts told a gathering of Kansas corn growers, sorghum growers and wheat growers at the annual Kansas Commodity Classic in Manhattan on Jan. 26.

Roberts said he wants farmers and ranchers all across America to “saddle up and get ready to ride” in support of farmer-friendly legislation, especially getting a new farm bill and favorable trade agreements.

Roberts said the partisan divide of Washington is taking a toll on getting the work done that will help farmers and ranchers survive a third year of low commodity prices, an uncertain supply and demand situation, and where trade policy “is yet to be determined.”

This will not be the year for a “revolutionary” farm bill, but rather one with modest changes designed to improve the current farm bill and provide language that offers producers consistency and transparency along with better on-time payment performance.

ROBERTS SPEAKS: Sen. Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, says he expects to have a vote on the 2018 Farm Bill on the Senate floor in March. He told farmers to expect the Bill to offer consistency and transparency and hopefully a path to more timely payments. However, he said, don’t expect it to be “revolutionary.”

What farm country really needs, Roberts stressed, is approval of trade deals, especially when it comes to NAFTA and to deals that would replace the multi-lateral Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Donald Trump pulled out of five days into his presidency without a single discussion with any farm economists or rural Congressional leaders.

“The reality is NAFTA has been very good to rural America,” Roberts said. Under NAFTA, our exports to Canada are up 265% and our exports to Mexico are up 289%. We are losing markets with this uncertainty about NAFTA. Mexico is set to buy wheat from Argentina and corn from Brazil.

Farmers need approval of USDA under-secretaries, Roberts said, especially Bill Northey for undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, and Greg Doud for chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

“We need these nominees confirmed and we need them at work now,” Roberts said. “Without them in place, the USTR (Robert Lighthizer) is getting far too much information from the White House and from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. And that isn’t good for farmers.”

He said he does not anticipate a hard partisan fight on the bill, largely because the ag committees in both the House and the Senate have strong bipartisan leaders that have worked well together in the past.

“That said, we are going to have budget issues that challenge our ability to help our farmers recover from the blizzards, wildfires and floods and now another drought,” Roberts said, “We are going to have to find more money for the dairy program and there’s going to have to be a trade-off to get cotton taken care of. But most of all, we need to make sure that the message is out there. American’s farmers and ranchers need certainty and consistency in markets and in farm programs. That’s going to be my challenge to all of you. Make sure your voices are heard. This is not the time to sit still or be quiet. It’s the time to sound off and to saddle up and ride.”

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