Having grown up in agriculture and now with the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my good friend and mentor Pat Roberts, I could not be more proud to join the Senate Agriculture Committee. For 48 of the past 50 years, Kansas has had a voice on the Senate Ag Committee. Why? Because agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Kansas and is responsible for 40% of the state’s economy.
This assignment will keep Kansas’ voice at the table to help ensure our farmers, ranchers and producers remain profitable and our rural communities prosperous.
Where I’m from, people work per acre, not per hour. My earliest and fondest memories growing up were spending time on our family farm. While it’s true growing up a Kansas farm boy is mostly having fun, I learned some of life’s most important lessons: an appreciation for the land and environment, a hard work ethic, and the value of a strong handshake. Those life lessons will guide my work in the Senate Ag Committee, and here are just some of the priorities I have my sights set on:
First, we have to stay on top of our push to reduce the regulatory burden on farmers and ensure the new administration doesn’t increase this burden. We made great strides in the previous administration on this front – whether it was repealing Waters of the United States rule or waiving electronic logging device mandates – and we can’t afford to go backward and hamper Kansas farmers, ranchers and producers with bureaucratic red tape.
Second, I will work with the new administration and my colleagues to advance the mission of free and reciprocal trade in order to open new international markets for Kansas farmers and ranchers. With the China Phase One Deal, the Japan Free Trade Agreement, and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, we’ve modernized nearly 50% of our export markets. We must enforce our existing agreements and continue to seek new export opportunities around the globe.
Third, we must continue to fully protect and preserve crop insurance. I’ve seen first-hand how harsh Mother Nature has been on our Kansas producers, and during these times we must ensure our producers continue to have access to crop insurance and other tools. Quite frankly, securing the next farm bill starts now.
Fourth, we must do everything we can to continue the revitalization of rural communities in Kansas and expand cleaner, more affordable options at the pump – support for our biofuel producers will do just that. The 10 biofuel plants operating in Kansas utilize corn, sorghum and soybeans to produce clean-burning fuel, while contributing to the economic health of rural communities across the state. Under the previous administration we made great strides to increase demand, both domestically and abroad, and grow consumer access to biofuels with common sense regulatory adjustments. We must continue this work in the new administration.
Fifth, we have to make progress so consumers can be sure that the meat products they are buying are indeed real meat. Consumers should be able to rely on the information on food labels they see on the shelves to be truthful and not deceptive. For years now, alternative protein products have confused many consumers with misleading packaging and creative names for products. I will continue to advocate for greater transparency in labeling to protect terms like “meat” and “beef” and help consumers better differentiate real meat from non-meat products. Additionally, on the meat front, local butchers and small meat processors who have state-inspected facilities and the livestock producers who use their services should have better access to consumers across the country. I will push for changes to provide those producers with more options to market directly to consumers across state lines.
Sixth, while we must continue to secure our borders, we need to make common-sense reforms for our immigrant agricultural workers. We can do both. The previous administration finalized H2A visa changes making that program more flexible and efficient. However, the current system still is not workable for dairy farms and livestock producers needing year-round help. I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help get legal ag workers our producers back home need for continued success.
And finally but certainly not least, we must continue to invest in rural communities by deploying more broadband across rural Kansas. My parents grew up in an era when 160 acres of good Kansas land, hard work, and a sharp pencil could support a family. But today’s producer has to be as much of a sharp business person as they are a mechanic, a master of technology, and a soothsayer of the markets. They’ve turned the pencils into high tech precision agriculture, and in order to remain successful, they need access to a fast and reliable broadband connection. Whether it’s a farmer out on his combine at dawn, a small business owner working on payroll, or a child virtually learning, increasing the availability and quality of broadband for rural areas is critical to keep Kansans connected and economically viable.
It is crucial that those of us in Washington do absolutely everything in our power to provide farmers, ranchers, and producers with the tools necessary so that they can continue to feed, fuel, and clothe this nation and the world. The vastness of Kansas agriculture can’t be overstated, and I look forward to providing leadership for all Kansans on this important committee.
Roger Marshall, M.D., is a U.S. senator for Kansas.