Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), the new chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is urging the agriculture community to focus on "principles, not programs" as they begin working on the all-important farm bill this year.
"We should start with principles that will guide us as we evaluate what works and what doesn't in today's economy to address the unique challenges facing our farmers today and into the future," said in Stabenow, in her remarks before audience of agriculture policy makers and industry representatives at the USDA 2011 Outlook Forum in Arlington, Virginia on Thursday.
Stabenow stressed that policymakers will need to "make the best use of our limited dollars" as the department faces a strained fiscal environment.
She emphasized the need for a strong safety net for America's farmers along with focusing on effective, streamlined programs.
"Growers and ranchers are businessmen and women with a lot of work to do," she said. "Anyone who's ever been to a working farm understands that. You do not have the time to fill out a lot of paperwork or to try and understand a myriad of complex - sometimes conflicting - programs."
She also touched on conservation issues: "the Farm Bill must conserve and protect our land and water. Thanks to investments in the Farm Bill, farmers around the country have been able to improve production on their working land. It's helped them be more competitive in the global market - when there are fewer inputs, there are fewer input costs. It's also allowed landowners to add value to their operations by fostering wildlife habitat on working land."
In closing, Stabenow cited President Harry Truman who once said, "In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children, or more prosperous than its farmers."
"That's another principle we need to be thinking about. America produces an abundance of safe, nutritious food," she said. "As we look at the programs that help feed America, we should make sure that they are effective and being delivered to the people who need them."