When my daughters were growing up they were very active in 4-H and would show livestock we raised on our property in Benton County. To help develop their handling skills, the girls would put harnesses on the lambs and walk them on the sidewalks around town. This drew many curious looks, and with surprising frequency, questions about what breed of dog the girls were walking.
I mention this anecdote because, even in Arkansas, many people don’t have a strong connection to, or understanding of, agriculture.
For most Americans, getting food for the family starts and ends with going to the grocery store or a restaurant. They often are unaware of all the work that went into preparing that product on the shelf or the plated meal a server brings to the table.
That perception may be beginning to change. As a result of the pandemic, our understanding of what it takes to get food from farms to consumers has increased and fostered a greater appreciation for the hardworking men and women around the country who produce it. While some items were hard to find at the onset of the pandemic, we never slipped into a catastrophic national food shortage. Our agriculture community stepped up and made sure we had high-quality food to meet our nutritional needs.
As we begin to draft the next farm bill, it is important that we share stories of why this legislation matters. When the pandemic shut the world down, the hardworking men and women who make up our agriculture community were among those who kept on working. They have to ensure Americans have meat, fruits and vegetables for our plates in good times and bad. Not only do they have to overcome economic challenges—such as record high input costs, supply chain bottlenecks and labor shortages—but they also must navigate those brought on by Mother Nature—hurricanes, floods and droughts—which seem to happen with more frequency and force each season.
Agriculture policy may be complex, and debates about food policy may get less attention than other hot button issues, but these decisions matter to all of us. Recent events have reminded us we cannot find ourselves in a position where we are dependent on other nations for our food supply. Congress has a responsibility to pass a farm bill that ensures our family farmers and ranchers have the tools they need to succeed.
The Senate Agriculture Committee review of each title of the current farm bill is underway in earnest. We recently held our first farm bill hearing on Capitol Hill to review the rural development and energy programs authorized by the legislation. We will continue evaluating each section of the current bill to take an up-close look at the effectiveness of, and opportunities to improve, this critical safety net for rural America.
While the world is in a very different place than it was when we last wrote farm bill, our goal remains the same. We must strengthen American agriculture for any situation we face in the future. If we do that, our farmers will continue to do what they have always done: provide the safest, most abundant, and most affordable food supply on earth.