One of Georgia’s richest assets is our diverse and vibrant agricultural community. As I traveled across the state with Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black over the past two years, I’ve met with many family farmers and industry leaders who keep it growing.
While I have only spent a few weeks in Washington, I have an incredible sense of responsibility in representing our state’s agricultural interests. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, my goal is to be a strong voice for our local farmers. In fact, during my first committee hearing we invited Ronnie Lee of Bronwood to share his personal experience in the field. Washington can learn a lot from Georgia’s farmers and how federal policies impact them directly.
Our nation remains in a full-blown fiscal crisis. Georgians are frustrated, and justifiably so, by the onslaught of federal intrusion into the lives of farmers and their families. I heard repeatedly that we must act now to create commonsense policies that push back against the federal government’s burdensome overreach. There are several issues that must be addressed if we are going to promote a safe, secure, and robust agriculture industry in the future, and my business experience gives me a unique perspective to tackle these issues.
Farm policies have done a great deal for agriculture in this country, including providing a safety net for producers during hard times, creating conservation programs that encourage stewardship of land and water, and establishing partnerships for research. However, agriculture now sees a more intrusive and burdensome regulatory climate. Farmers across our state are small business owners. They understand, like I do, that these excessive regulations have a negative effect on their businesses. Likewise, consumers see higher prices at the grocery store. Simply put, we must reign in these out of control regulators.
We must grow access to skilled and legal labor as it is a critical component to the sustainability of agriculture. American agriculture needs a stable workforce, and Georgia farmers need an H2-A visa program that works. A March 2014 report released by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform found that “labor challenges faced by U.S. farmers and the inadequacies of the H2-A visa program are a key reason why American farmers have been unable to maintain their share of the domestic market.” Our state’s farmers deserve a program that makes them successful and sustainable for years to come.
Another area of great potential is through our state’s agricultural exports. Currently, Georgia’s food and fiber exports are nearly a quarter of the percentage of farm gate value, nearly $3 billion. In 2013, the United States provided more than $144 billion in exports, and Georgia’s contribution was roughly 2% of total exports. But the world will be counting on Georgia to help feed its growing population. By 2050, the world is expected to have a population of 9 billion people. It is imperative that food and fiber production is able to sustain this sort of growth going forward.
The only way that we are going to emerge stronger is through rededicating ourselves to the founding principles of economic opportunity, fiscal responsibility, limited government, and individual liberty. My commitment to these ideas remains strong, and they will form the backbone of my service here in the United States Senate. I remain humbled, sobered, and encouraged as I fight for Georgians. My wife, Bonnie, and I ask for your prayers, input, and advice as we, together, seek to better the great state of Georgia and our nation.