Just a couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to meet Joe Arnold and his parents at their family farm in Holloway.
Sitting around their dining room table, Joe told me about his grandpa Vernon, who built their farm from nothing in the late 1960s. Vernon was an original shareholder of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, a legacy that continues today with Joe, whose crops include sugar beets as well as dry edible beans, corn, and soybeans. At only 22 years old, Joe is a third generation farmer and hopes to continue the tradition started by his grandpa.
Farmers like Joe are the backbone of our rural communities. But to succeed, he and all our farmers need a strong safety net, protection from economic hardship, and support from lawmakers. That's what I heard over and over again as I met with farmers and rural community leaders across the state to talk about their priorities for the next Farm Bill.
I brought the ideas I heard back to Washington, and after months of working with my colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee, we reached an agreement on a 2018 Farm Bill. It's a strong bill that will be critical to moving our economy forward and providing farmers with the certainty and stability they need all while maintaining important access to food assistance for families in need. And, this bill is bipartisan - we came together in the Senate and said, "We're going to get this done."
As you know, Minnesota farmers and ranchers are already facing a lot of uncertainty - uncertainty from the weather, uncertainty from low commodity prices, and uncertainty surrounding market access in some of our biggest export markets.
This Farm Bill creates a strong safety net to help farmers and ranchers get through periods of low prices and trade disruptions and get back on their feet after weather disasters.
Midwestern dairy farmers have had a particularly tough few years. In the bipartisan budget agreement I helped craft improvements to the Dairy Margin Protection Program. The final bill removes an arbitrary cap on dairy insurance that allows for innovative new risk management tools. This Farm Bill builds on those improvements by investing an additional $100 million to improve affordability and flexibility for small dairy producers.
This Farm Bill also includes my provisions to safeguard against catastrophic disease outbreaks. In 2015, nine million turkeys in 23 Minnesota counties died due to an Avian Flu outbreak. I fought for legislation to create an animal disease and disaster response program that would help to adequately address risks to animal health, livestock export markets, and industry economic stability.
But the Farm Bill isn't just good for farmers - it's good for conservationists too. My bipartisan Agriculture Data Act that I introduced with South Dakota Republican Senator Thune is included in the bill and will help farmers take advantage of existing conservation information.
The United States Department of Agriculture currently manages and stores valuable producer data, but it can be better used to help farmers understand what conservation practices reduce risk and increase profits.
This legislation will ensure that hardworking farmers are able to capitalize on the USDA's vast resources to streamline their operations and enhance their yields. We also made sure to protect critical funding in the Farm Bill for the Rural Energy for America program that enables rural farmers to make their farms more energy efficient - saving money and investing in a cleaner environment for generations to come.
As we bring the bill to a vote on the Senate floor, I will push to include even more of Minnesota farmers' - and my - priorities, like maintaining the sugar program. Over the years I have stood up for our sugar beet farmers by opposing amendments that would have eliminated or dismantled the sugar program, and I'll be fighting to continue that support.
Kids like Joe, who grow up in rural Minnesota, should be able to stay in rural Minnesota. The 2018 Farm Bill is a good step forward and I predict we get it done in the Senate soon.