I'm here to talk about the 2012 Farm Bill and the importance of moving forward with this important legislation.
I want to acknowledge the hard work of Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts for their commitment to producing a bipartisan bill that cleared the Agriculture Committee this April with a strong bipartisan vote.
The Agriculture Committee is a successful model of how we can work across the aisle on tough problems and get things done. It always has been. This cooperative effort was not on a small or merely symbolic issue but on a major piece of legislation that impacts every single American. Throughout the process, this Committee has faced unprecedented budget challenges, as has our country, but under Chairwoman Stabenow's leadership, the committee has worked together on a bill that makes tough choices, works within a budget to provide $23 billion in deficit reduction and preserves the core programs that are important for Minnesota and other states across the country.
I believe that this carefully crafted bill finds a good balance between a number of priorities and I urge members of the Senate to continue to work together in the same spirit that was exemplified in the Agriculture Committee and to complete work on this bill as quickly as possible.
Mr. President, I've spent the last year all around our state, and I've talked to farmers and businesses across Minnesota. And no matter where I go, I am always reminded of the critical role that farming plays in our state's economy. We are 21st in the country for population but we are sixth in the country for agriculture. It is our state's leading export, accounting for $75 billion in economic activity and supporting more than 300,000 jobs. It is one of the major reasons, Mr. President, that our unemployment rate is at 5.6%, significantly better than the national average.
And that is because you have seen consistent farm policy coming out of this chamber and Washington D.C, and you can't say that in every area of industry, consistent policy coming from the government, over the last decade.
That must continue. It doesn't just help our farmers on the front line. It feeds into many industries and it certainly feeds into agriculture exports. Our state is number one in turkeys in the United States of America, a fact you might not have known, Mr. President. We are number one for green peas and sugar beets, home to Del Monte processing facilities. We are number two in spring wheat and home to a rich tradition of milling. We are number three in hogs and soybeans and also home to pork processers and biodiesel plants. We are number four in the country for corn and also home to 21 ethanol plants that produce over a billion gallons of ethanol every single year.
It's one of the major reasons that our country has reduced our dependency on foreign oil from something like 60% five years ago to the 40's, mid 40's now. That's an incredible record. It has to do with oil drilling in North Dakota. It has to do with better gas mileage in our cars and trucks. But it also has to do with biofuels.
Minnesotans and rural communities benefit from a strong farm economy that provide jobs on the farms, mills and processing plants, equipment manufacturers and other key exports for the United States of America and a diverse range of high-tech jobs in today's modern agriculture. That is why there is so much at stake in this 2012 Farm Bill and why it is so important for us to finish with a strong and effective bill that gets the job done for America's farmers and for our economy.
Mr. President, it's no secret that during each step of the process, we have been working with a tough budget climate, but that doesn't mean that the goal of maintaining a strong farm safety net or a safe, nutritious and abundant food supply is any less critical. The last thing I want to do is to be dependent on foreign oil even though we've seen improvements, we don't want to have that happen with foreign food.
How have we done this to get the $23 billion in cuts? I think the first thing that is important for people to understand who are not from rural areas, who are from metro areas -- my state has both -- or from states that are more urban-focused, only 14% of the farm bill is farm programs. Could have had a different name but a lot of people call it the Farm Bill. It's 14%. The rest is conservation, school lunches, you name it. While only 14% of the farm bill is farm programs, nearly two-thirds of the cuts over last year are on that 14%. Nearly two-thirds of the $23 billion in cuts, about $16 billion, is cut from the farm programs which are only 14% of the farm bill.
You know, I heard from many producers in Minnesota as we dealt with how are we going to get rid of direct payments as I've long advocated, we had huge floor fights last time on reform to the farm payment system. I thought we needed to make some changes there and get that number down in terms of the money that can be spent in the income. But now we have actually eliminated direct payments, and so that is why the crop insurance part of this bill becomes even more important.
The bill also continues the sugar program which is important to our country. Tens of thousands of jobs across the country, tens of thousands of jobs in the Red River Valley in Minnesota and North Dakota, and also helps to ensure that we have a strong domestic sugar industry in our country. The bill also simplifies the commodity programs by eliminating a number of programs and replacing them with the agriculture risk coverage program, which complements crop insurance by providing protection against multiyear project declines.
The bill helps our agriculture producers keep our soil healthy and our water clean. Our state is number five in the conservation reserve program and number three in the environmental quality incentives program, and number one in the conservation steward program. Specifically, I've worked to ensure that local communities also have the tools they need to address conservation challenges like flooding. Conservation groups from Ducks Unlimited to Pheasants Forever know how important the Farm Bill is, and that is why over 640 conservation groups, Mr. President, are supporting the committee's work on the Farm Bill.
The committee-passed Farm Bill also preserves the essential nutrition programs that millions of families and children rely on every day. Importantly, this bill avoids the radical cuts to nutrition programs and school lunches that would have been proposed in other budgets.
This bill also includes a number of amendments that I authored, including an amendment that will help beginning farmers and ranchers better manage their risk and access land as they get a start in agriculture. We need to make sure that we have the next generation of farmers and ranchers, that it just doesn't end here. Beginning farmers face big obstacles including limited access to credit and technical assistance and, of course, the high price of land. During Committee markup, I introduced an amendment with Senator Baucus that helps beginning farmers purchase crop insurance by increasing their help 10% for the first five years. I believe that people who grow our food deserve to know that their livelihoods can't be swept away in the blink of the eye by market failures or natural disasters. That is why strengthening crop insurance for beginning farmers is a priority.
I worked to include an amendment with Senators Johanns, Baucus and Hoeven to allow beginning producers to use CRP acres for grazing without a penalty. I believe this will go a long way in building the next generation of farmers. As a beginning cosponsor of the Rancher Opportunity Act introduced by senator Harkin, I fought for the mentoring and outreach provisions for new farmers and planning and credit building, skills they need to succeed and stay on the land.
Mr. President, homegrown renewable fuels helped us reduce our dependence on liquid fuels. I believe that we can continue this trend. As I mentioned we've seen an enormous shift in our dependence on foreign oils. Much of that has to do with biofuels, now 10% of our fuel supply in this country, as we work to make it more and more fuel efficient, use less water, transition to cellulosic. What we do know is we should be focusing on the workers and farmers of the Midwest and not the cartels of the Mideast. That is what helped reduce our foreign oil dependence in these last few years as well as the drilling I mentioned before. I also cosponsored amendments to provide funding for the energy title.
This is key in this Farm Bill. I know we've all heard from farmers and ranchers in our states about the importance of passing a five-year farm bill. You think about the work that's done in Congress. What every business says is we need a longer time period. We need consistency for our tax credit. We need to know what's happening. This is one area where we've actually done it. We've done this with the Farm Bill over the last decade. The last two Farm Bills with five-year windows have been fairly consistent. We have an opportunity to do it again and still save $23 billion on the budget. Still make sure those nutrition programs are there for our kids, still make sure the most vulnerable among us can be fed and not go hungry and still make sure those vital conservation programs are there for this country.
There is a reason that agriculture has been able to keep its head above water in these difficult times. A lot of it has to do with consistent policies. That is one of my main messages to my colleagues here. We have one of the stars in terms of exports coming out of this farm bill. That is one of the main reasons it's so important because we not only are growing food for the people of this country, we're feeding the world, we're keeping the jobs in America. Mr. President, thank you very much. I yield the floor.