West Texas has seats at the table when it comes time to finish crafting a Farm Bill to ensure a strong, viable ag sector for West Texas and rural America

Now that the House and Senate have passed their respective versions of the Farm Bill, a bipartisan “conference committee” made up of both House and Senate members has been established to work out the differences between the two and send a final version to the president’s desk.

Our mission is straightforward and clear: to establish policies that support a vibrant agriculture economy, strengthen rural communities, maintain food security in America and tighten up work requirements for food stamp recipients.

I am honored to have been appointed by the speaker to serve on the Committee and thrilled to work alongside my friend and fellow West Texan, Chairman Mike Conaway. Our mission is straightforward and clear: to establish policies that support a vibrant agriculture economy, strengthen rural communities, maintain food security in America and tighten up work requirements for food stamp recipients.

West Texas will get two voices for the price of one with Mike and me at the table. That is only appropriate since our region is one of the largest agriculture production centers in the world. The Farm Bill represents more than just economic development for rural communities or even the 20 million agriculture-related jobs in the United States. Getting U.S. agriculture policy right is about maintaining our ability to feed and clothe our own citizens independent of foreign sources of food and fiber – a national security issue for all Americans. When you combine food security with energy independence, there is not a more important region in the country than West Texas – the food, fuel and fiber capital of the world!

Since the last Farm Bill in 2014, net farm income has dropped more than 50 percent – the steepest decline since the Great Depression – and farm bankruptcies are up nearly 40 percent over the past two years.

This Farm Bill comes at one of the most challenging economic times for the agriculture industry in our nation’s history. Since the last Farm Bill in 2014, net farm income has dropped more than 50 percent – the steepest decline since the Great Depression – and farm bankruptcies are up nearly 40 percent over the past two years.

The biggest brunt of this downturn was borne by our cotton producers who were completely exposed to the commodity market’s nosedive after being the only row crop removed from Title I of the Farm Bill’s safety net in 2014. Fortunately, we were able to restore cotton’s safety net status, and furthermore, improve it by covering the value of cotton as a seed as well as a lint. That is the most significant feature of this new Farm Bill for folks living in the largest cotton patch in the world, but we must also establish the right agriculture policies for all commodities in order to deal with the new market realities of 2018 and beyond.

Farm Bills come once every five years and not only set our nation’s agriculture policy, but also include funding for one of the largest welfare programs – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. SNAP accounts for more than 80 percent of the Farm Bill’s funding and costs taxpayers more than $70 billion a year. Keep this in mind: the total cost of U.S. agriculture policies (apart from the food stamp program) is less than half of one percent of the entire federal budget. That’s a small cost to taxpayers for the enormous benefit of a stable and affordable food supply.

I believe it would be a travesty not to reform the food stamp program so we end policies trapping people in a perpetual cycle of dependence on the government.

With our economy growing at historic rates, unemployment at historic lows and nearly 7 million surplus jobs, I believe it would be a travesty not to reform the food stamp program so we end policies trapping people in a perpetual cycle of dependence on the government. Sadly, millions of able-bodied adults are using the welfare system in this country as a lifestyle with no intention of getting a job. Any responsible welfare program – whether it has to do with food, health care, or housing – must encourage work-capable people to maximize their God-given talents and seize workforce training and employment opportunities that will not only benefit them and their families, but our entire economy and future prosperity.

The House Farm Bill will be my benchmark going into these negotiations. However, given the 60-vote rule in the Senate, we will need the support of at least ten Democrats in order to pass it. Whatever compromise is reached, we must ensure our final legislation achieves three key objectives: first, a viable and responsible safety net for all commodities; second, an investment in broadband technology, water conservation, and other critical infrastructure for sustaining rural communities; and third, long-overdue reforms to the food stamp program to encourage able-bodied adults to work.

If we get this Farm Bill right, we will not only ensure a strong, viable ag sector for West Texas and rural America, but we can ensure our economy continues to grow and that all Americans have the opportunity for a better quality of life.