Hearing tackles Farm Bill implementation

Officials release statements following hearing on Farm Bill implementation

Editor’s note: The following remarks were released by U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry; and House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Chair Stacey Plaskett. To watch the hearing in its entirety, please click here.

Chairman Roberts Hears from USDA on Farm Bill Implementation

U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today held a hearing to hear from USDA Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky regarding implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill.

 

 

“This hearing continues our bipartisan work together. Yes, Republicans and Democrats, Congress, and the Administration, are working together to ensure that these programs operate as we intended and that changes are implemented timely and in the most farmer-friendly manner possible,” said Chairman Roberts. “This year, the Committee has held several Farm Bill hearings, including an initial overview eight months ago with Secretary Sonny Perdue.” 

“For many producers, this growing season has been far from easy. During planting season, growers experienced an historic, wet spring, which delayed plantings in many parts of the country. Others have acres that were completely prevented from being planted and are still recovering from floods.

“The 2018 Farm Bill provides important risk management tools, such as crop insurance, to mitigate the risks and losses from these unpredictable weather-related events. These challenges again highlight the need for certainty and predictability on domestic farm policy, provided by timely and farmer-friendly implementation of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. And, that is what today’s hearing is about.”

To watch the hearing and read testimony, click here.

Click here to watch Chairman Roberts’ opening statement. Below are Chairman Roberts’ remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. I call this meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order.

Today, I am pleased to welcome back Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky to the Agriculture Committee as he provides updates on the Department’s implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Thank you, Steve, for the efforts at the Department to implement what we know is a significant and important task—omnibus legislation that affects farmers, ranchers, businesses and rural communities across this country.

This hearing continues our bipartisan work together. Yes, Republicans and Democrats, Congress, and the Administration, are working together to ensure that these programs operate as we intended and that changes are implemented timely and in the most farmer-friendly manner possible.

This year, the Committee has held several Farm Bill hearings, including an initial overview eight months ago with Secretary Sonny Perdue.

USDA continues to roll out changes to Farm Bill programs. As of this month, producers are able to visit their local Farm Service Agency office to sign up and choose between the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage Programs for crop years 2019 and 2020.

Important voluntary conservation programs were reauthorized and strengthened in the 2018 Farm Bill.

I understand that regulations to implement many of these programs, such as EQIP, CSP and CRP, are expected to be published in the near future.

Our producers are also monitoring animal disease prevention and management.

The 2018 Farm Bill made a great commitment to bolstering our animal health infrastructure by directing mandatory funds for preparedness efforts against outbreaks of animal diseases and tools to combat animal diseases should they impact U.S. agriculture.

The bipartisan hemp cultivation provisions have also garnered great interest in the countryside from producers and processors alike. A new crop can provide long-term economic opportunity for farmers when regulations are implemented in a farmer-friendly manner and important pillars of their risk management tools, such as good farming practices, are in place.

The 2018 Farm Bill also included several measures to improve the integrity of our nutrition programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program.

SNAP improvements from the bill result in better oversight of payment error rates, modernization of the verification process, and focusing employment and training on the skills needed in the workforce.

Overall, we worked together—in a historic fashion—to get the Farm Bill through Congress, signed by the President, and to USDA to implement less than a year ago.

Members of this Committee know firsthand that producers, lenders, and rural Americans are facing another difficult year of low commodity prices, high input costs, and uncertainty in the marketplace.

For many producers, this growing season has been far from easy. During planting season, growers experienced an historic, wet spring, which delayed plantings in many parts of the country. Others have acres that were completely prevented from being planted and are still recovering from floods.

This fall, as producers are trying to harvest their crops, challenges have continued. Just this past week, Winter Storm Aubrey and cold temperatures threatened crops and livestock from Kansas to North Dakota.

The 2018 Farm Bill provides important risk management tools, such as crop insurance, to mitigate the risks and losses from these unpredictable weather-related events.

These challenges again highlight the need for certainty and predictability on domestic farm policy, provided by timely and farmer-friendly implementation of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. And, that is what today’s hearing is about.

I now recognize Senator Stabenow for any remarks.



Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Farm Bill Implementation

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing titled “Implementing the 2018 Farm Bill”.

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this important hearing.

Deputy Secretary Censky, thank you for being here and welcome back to our hearing room.

It’s been 10 months since Congress passed the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill with the support of 87 Senators. Now, farmers, families, and rural communities across the country are seeing the Farm Bill take shape in their daily lives. This is true in my home state of Michigan, where agriculture supports one in four jobs.

The changes we made to farm safety net programs are helping farmers protect their crops from increasing uncertainty caused by weather, markets, and trade disruptions. I’m especially pleased that the USDA has prioritized implementing the Dairy Margin Coverage program, which has provided more than 22,000 dairy farmers with assistance so far.

The Farm Bill also recognizes the diversity of American agriculture, which is critical in Michigan where we grow a wider variety of crops than any state but one. New kinds of crops and types of production, like hops and greenhouse operations, now will have access to crop insurance. More than 600 farmers in my state are getting involved in hemp production for the first time in decades. And urban farms in places like Detroit and Grand Rapids will have new opportunities to grow and expand their operations.

The Farm Bill also improved tools to help farmers preserve our land, water, and Great Lakes. I am glad that the USDA has held sign-ups for all conservation programs this year, including those that Congress prioritized to address water quality and promote climate-smart agriculture. I look forward to seeing the Department continue to implement the Farm Bill’s conservation improvements, including the changes we made to expand regional partnerships and increase locally-led conservation.

The Farm Bill also expanded rural internet service, prioritizing the most underserved areas. I’m pleased that the USDA is following Congress’ lead by forging ahead on new rules that make it easier for small towns and rural communities to access high-speed internet.

So there are positive developments to celebrate, but I do have strong concerns that the USDA is rewriting critical parts of the Farm Bill that we passed by the largest bipartisan vote ever, prioritizing some regions and farmers over others, and pursuing rules that directly contradict the will of Congress.

Congress prioritized local food systems, organic production, and beginning and minority farmer programs. But many of these provisions have yet to be implemented.

For example, the Farm Bill established new provisions to strengthen enforcement of organic imports, but the Department has dragged its feet to set up other important organic integrity provisions that clarify how dairy farmers transition into organic production.

Key components of local food investments are awaiting action, and the USDA has still not set up the Office of Urban Agriculture.

The Department has repeatedly made partisan changes to nutrition assistance that were outright rejected by Congress in the Farm Bill because they increase food insecurity for hungry families.

There continues to be concerns that the Administration isn’t doing enough to share important research and other information with farmers about how to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. Just two days ago, the Forest Service went against the Forestry Title of the Farm Bill by proposing to open Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to destructive logging. This moves us in the wrong direction on the climate crisis.

Additionally, the Farm Bill reinstated the Under Secretary for Rural Development position, but the President has yet to nominate a qualified candidate.

It’s also clear that lack of capacity at the Department is affecting Farm Bill implementation. The Administration has hamstrung agriculture research and Farm Bill grant awards by the senseless decision to relocate the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Deputy Secretary Censky, I know you have played an important role in managing Farm Bill implementation. While I appreciate the progress that has been made in many areas, there is still a tremendous amount to do.

I look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure each provision is implemented correctly and consistently with the legislative intent of the 2018 Farm Bill

Thank you.



Chair Plaskett Opening Statement at Hearing to Review Implementation of USDA Farm Bill Research Programs

House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Chair Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands delivered the following remarks today at the hearing to review implementation of USDA Farm Bill research programs.

[As Prepared for Delivery]

“Good morning and thank you for joining us today as we review USDA’s implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill research programs with Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Scott Hutchins.

“Strong investments in public agriculture research have historically allowed our farmers, ranchers, and rural communities to remain competitive and increase their overall productivity. These investments are more critical now than ever, with the agriculture sector attempting to adapt to a changing climate and manage for increasingly volatile markets.

“In June, I hosted a hearing in which members of this Subcommittee heard directly from farmers and researchers about the need for continued scientific advancements. Their message was clear – farmers and ranchers benefit from investments in public agriculture research and strong extension services.

“I believe that this Subcommittee, and the full House Agriculture Committee, understands the value of trusted science. The 2018 Farm Bill emphasized our commitment to this cause and ensured that U.S. farmer and ranchers will have the tools necessary to deal with future challenges.This can be seen in the increased support for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, continued support for programs like the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, and the creation of new programs to support urban agriculture and students at 1890 institutions.

“My district has benefitted from sustained investments in local researchers. Just last year, the University of the Virgin Islands received over $3 million from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).These funds have been critical in helping my farmers and ranchers overcome challenges associated with climate change, tropical pest pressures, and resource management.

“Following passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, this Subcommittee has turned its focus to USDA’s implementation efforts. It is my goal to ensure USDA is swiftly and efficiently getting resources into the hands of researchers. At a time of continued farm stress, it should be USDA’s top priority to support research efforts that directly benefit farmers.

“However, we cannot discuss Farm Bill implementation without addressing what I believe will be a major impediment to USDA’s ability to effectively administer programs and complete timely economic studies – the relocation of NIFA and ERS outside the National Capital Region.

“In a previous hearing, we heard farmers and researchers express apprehension about the relocation proposal. They cited a lack of stakeholder engagement and strong concerns over program continuity as reasons for their opposition to Secretary Perdue’s proposal. Chair Marcia Fudge and I sent a letter to the Secretary raising these concerns, and I can honestly say I was disappointed in his response and failure to outline a clear, robust plan for how these agencies would prevent gaps in services.

“Unfortunately, I believe my fears are becoming true. This week, I received updates on staffing levels and the status of Fiscal Year 2019 funding. ERS has appropriated funding to support 329 employees, but currently, a total of 214 positions are vacant – a vacancy rate of 65%. To put it bluntly, NIFA is in even worse shape.Out of 344 appropriated positions, 264 are currently vacant – a vacancy rate over 76%. I was told these extreme staff shortages mean some grant recipients will not receive their funds until March 2020.

 

 

“These gaps in service reinforce the notion that this relocation was hurried, misguided, and mismanaged. ERS and NIFA have been undermined at the very time these agencies require knowledgeable staff to implement Farm Bill changes, administer grants, and complete critical economic reports.Our farmers and ranchers deserve better, and so do the valued career public servants who have left their positions within ERS and NIFA for other opportunities.

“As Subcommittee Chair, I expect ERS and NIFA to quickly be restored to their former prominence. Dr. Hutchins, the members of this Subcommittee are looking to you and Secretary Perdue to work expeditiously and deliberately to prevent further gaps in service. This must be a top priority for you and Secretary Perdue, and I expect to see tangible results rather than hear lip service. If results are not delivered and programs continue to suffer, we will continue this discussion in the future.”

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