Salute to Kansas Senator Pat Roberts

Where do you start when you describe the career of Kansas U.S. Senator Pat Roberts? Did you know he is the only member of Congress in its history to serve as chairman and ranking member of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees?

“We could go on and on and on, but there’s no doubt -- Pat Roberts’ work on behalf of farmers and ranchers across the country has left no doubt that he is and always will be a champion for agriculture,” said Greg Akagi (WIBW Radio/Kansas Agriculture Network, Topeka, Kansas).

“Before we talked with him about his 40-year career serving as a Kansas Congressman and Senator, we gave our Salute to Senator Roberts,” Akagi said. “The nearly 70-minute virtual salute was a look back through the eyes of those who worked for him, colleagues, and those who were fortunate to interview him.”

“As the Senator’s time wound down in the nation’s capitol and it was time to box everything up, he said one of the things that brought back a lot of memories was the rather large stack from his days serving as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee (2003-2007).

“It was all that intelligence business when we found out that Saddam (Hussein) didn’t have all the WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and the politics that followed,” Roberts said.

The Senator served as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the time the investigation was taking place on the intelligence failures prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Senator Roberts says all the material will be sent to the Kansas State Historical Society.

“If there’s a standout accomplishment of Senator Roberts’ career, many would consider that to be the 1996 Farm Bill, which was also known as the ‘Freedom to Farm’ Act,” Akagi added. 

Senator Roberts was then chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and looked back at many meetings he had in Ford County speaking with several ag groups. He talked about the issues with lack of funding for a farm bill and all the other programs within the farm bill. Roberts remembered a conversation with Leon Torline, who was from Spearville, Kansas, just east of Dodge City.

“Pat, I’m tired of all these government regulations. We’ve got so many programs that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Sometimes we get money for them and sometimes we don’t. Why don’t you just give me the right to farm my farm the way I want to. Give me the freedom to farm,” Torline said.

Senator Roberts said that stuck with him, and he thought it was a good idea. The ‘96 Farm Bill included transition payments and the CRP program.

“We really tried to make it environmentally conscious, but also, when we’re going through tough times, provide for emergency haying and grazing. Today, farmers still don’t farm according to the dictation of the government. They farm with regards to what they think the market will be,” Roberts added.

Roberts emphasized that today, it’s a new circumstance.

“If a farmer doesn’t have access to technology or with the latest in ag research, or if we’re tossing tariffs around like lightning bolts, you get retaliation and you don’t have that market-oriented situation like I think we ought to have.”

Another action Senator Roberts was proud of was his work with former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerry on the Roberts-Kerry Bill (if you were in Kansas) or Kerry-Roberts Bill (if you were in Nebraska) on crop insurance. He’s proud of the work to improve it then and now.

“That became the number-one issue to farmers and ranchers and growers across the country prior to the 2018 farm bill,” Roberts said.

Senator Roberts also remembers the first time he met former President Trump with that topic in mind. Trump said, “What can I do for you?” Senator Roberts said, “Save crop insurance and improve it. It’s the number one issue in farm country — all the people that brought you to the dance.” The President asked, “Well, what’s the problem?” Roberts replied, “In your budget, you really cut it.”

Roberts said the President then got Mick Mulvaney, who at the time was the Director of the Office and Management and Budget, on the line.

“One problem,” Roberts said, “is that the President forgot my name.” Trump said, “Mick, farm guy here says that we’re cutting crop insurance.” Mulvaney said, “Mr. President, we’re not cutting it, we’re reforming it.”

The Senator said he then used an example of what we have a lot of in the Dodge City feedlots.

“If you go ahead with these reforms,” Roberts said, “you will take away crop insurance from large sections of the country, all of which voted for you. On the other hand, we produce more food and fiber for this country in those states that need crop insurance rather than these other states that will continue with it. You’ll decimate the whole industry.”

Senator Roberts said the President came back and said, “Mick, don’t cut crop insurance.”