As one of the top agriculture states in the nation, Illinois and its farmers have an important role to play in many elements of American life from the economy to the environment. Corn is Illinois’ leading crop, followed closely by soybeans. Livestock, dairy and poultry also contribute to farming’s $9 billion in economic impact each year. Illinois also enjoys a strong market in farm machinery manufacturing and biofuels production. To help maintain the agricultural strength of our state and our nation, I have supported tax fairness for farmers, improvements in crop insurance, expanded use of clean-burning and environmentally safe biofuels, increased support for local food production, and increased trade opportunities for agricultural commodities. I have advanced initiatives to strengthen this crucial sector of our economy because boosting the vitality of our nation's rural regions boosts the vitality of our nation as a whole.
We have a great resource in Illinois: our fields are helping to reduce dependence on foreign oil. I have been a longstanding champion of biofuels: I was the first Member of Congress to introduce legislation requiring ethanol to be blended into gasoline; and I have consistently supported important biofuels research in Illinois. Replacing imported oil with home-grown biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel leads to improved air quality, greater farmer profitability, and the creation of jobs and economic development in rural areas. I will continue to fight to ensure renewable biofuels remain a viable and strong part of our country’s energy future.
The Farm Bill is a critical bill that invests in energy and research; helps our rural communities grow and thrive; expands important conservation and land stewardship practices; ensures stability for our farmers; and provides food assistance for those most in need, both at home and abroad. Congress passed a Farm Bill in 2014 that made significant improvements in our nation’s investment in the agriculture sector, conservation, renewable energy, and nutrition. During the debate, I supported the repeal of outdated direct payments to producers, and this Farm Bill replaced them with more market-driven programs that make payments when farmers experience a loss. The bill institutionalizes crop insurance as the primary safety net for producers, which played a key role in protecting farmers during the 2012 drought. Additionally, it improves environmental protections by making conservation compliance a requirement for receiving crop insurance premium support.
Farmers markets have many benefits. They expand access to fresh, healthy food; they connect Illinois consumers with Illinois producers; and they support the local economy. In recent years, farmers markets have vastly expanded in Illinois, allowing more and more producers to sell directly into their local communities. The 2014 Farm Bill makes investments to build on the growth of the local foods movement by continuing and strengthening the Farmers Market Promotion Program, Local Foods Promotion Program, Value Added Production Grants, Specialty Crop Block grant program, and other federal programs. The bill also helps low-income families access local foods by expanding and encouraging the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers markets and through Community-Supported Agriculture networks (CSAs).
Little is as basic as ensuring the safety of the food we eat. In 2011, the President signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill I introduced and worked with business and consumers groups, Republicans and Democrats, to improve and enact. This legislation is the most dramatic improvement in the way the United States protects its food supply in 70 years. The bill shifts the focus to preventing contamination, rather than responding to it.
But there is still more to do. I continue working with my colleagues to strengthen our food safety laws and provide the resources necessary to ensure the safety of our food.
I have proposed ways to strengthen the food safety structures at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), proposed the creation of a single food safety agency, and supported increased inspection and protection of foreign food imports.