“Third, the programs that comprise the safety net have got to be simple and understandable. Programs shouldn't discourage farmers from applying, they shouldn't be too costly to attain, or too slow to matter.

“And, finally, the safety net has got to be accountable and justifiable to the 98 percent of us who do not farm.  We have a responsibility to the American people to use their resources wisely and to provide assistance only when it's needed. Congress has a tremendous opportunity to make sure the safety net works for all of our producers, and it's extremely important that they get it right.

“As I said, agriculture will always be risky, but good policy can avoid needless risks. While established farmers may have enough equity in their farms and ranches to survive a bad year or two, that's not necessarily true for beginning farmers or ranchers. The program design also needs to take that distinction into account and appreciate that distinction. So as we strengthen the safety net, we should also make it easier for young people or older people, who have never done it before, to begin farming.

“Why is this important? Well, it's simple. America has an aging farming community. In the past five years, we've seen a 20 percent decrease in the number of farmers under the age of 25; and based on the last ag census; the average American farmer is 57 years of age. Nearly 30 percent of American farmers are over the age of 65, which is almost double the number of folks in the workforce over 65. Now, some of these folks want to slow down or retire; but they have no one to take over the farming operation. 

“That challenges us to find new ways, through tax policy, through regulations, through our credit programs or other programs, to help transition farms to the next generation.

“We'll need a community effort to recruit, train, and support this new generation of farmers and ranchers; and we need to make sure that it's for operations of all sizes.

“Now, the second key principle I alluded to earlier centers on sustaining agricultural productivity. Farmers and ranchers and growers must be able to produce an affordable and appealing product each and every year.

“Our farmers are the most productive in the world, and that leadership position must be maintained. Today there's no question that American farmers can produce enough to feed our nation, but that hasn't always been the case. Over the past 60 years, yields per acre of major crops — corn, soy, wheat, and cotton — have doubled, tripled, and in some cases even quadrupled.

“At the same time, livestock production and specialty crop production have become far more efficient. Now, this evolution was not pre-ordained. Producers embraced new science and new technologies and production techniques we see here at this plant. We laid the foundation for this incredible productivity through a sustained investment in research; and Congress must find ways to support research that is focused on crop production and protection, on livestock production and protection.

“Studies have shown that public investments in agricultural research earn a 20 dollars-to-1 return of investment in the U.S. economy.  Once that information is disseminated to farmers, ranchers, and producers, they take it and make — make it work. And these benefits extend beyond just economic returns.  Research also leads to improved soil and water and air quality, and they help us to design strategies that will enable us to deal with the impacts of the changing climate.

“Public funding for agricultural research has remained basically flat-lined since the 1990s, clearly not keeping pace with other federally-supported research; and a recent USDA study sounded a warning signal to all of us that there is a direct link between increases in agricultural investment on research and agricultural productivity. If we continue to flat-line our commitment to research, our productivity will likely suffer; this at a time when our productivity will have to continue to increase to meet the global demand for food.