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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Commodity Programs, Crop Insurance, and Credit in the Next Farm Bill

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today released the following opening statement at a hearing titled “Farm Bill 2023: Commodity Programs, Crop Insurance, and Credit.”  Live Video of the hearing is available here.

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

I call this hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order.

Last week, the Committee held a hearing on trade and horticulture policy. Today we hold our fourth Farm Bill hearing, and we will focus on the backbone of the farm safety net:  the commodity, crop insurance, and credit titles.

I would like to welcome our witnesses – Under Secretary Bonnie, Administrator Marcia Bunger, and Administrator Zach Ducheneaux. The Committee appreciates your time and we know you share our goal of enacting a bipartisan Farm Bill.

Some of our country’s earliest agricultural policies date back more than a century, when Congress provided help to farmers to meet their credit needs, and later in the 30’s when Congress provided assistance to address weather disasters and plummeting prices. 

A lot has changed since that time, but farming remains one of the riskiest businesses, and farmers still need these tools today. Drought, floods, an early thaw followed by a late freeze, and other severe weather events can wipe out a farmer’s bottom line. Global events can cause dramatic swings in commodity prices, risking farmers’ livelihoods and harming communities. The climate crisis has made this threat even more dire for farmers across the country.  

I am proud of commonsense bipartisan reforms this Committee has implemented over the last two Farm Bills to make the farm safety net fairer and more equitable for all farmers.

We ended direct payments that either paid too much or too little regardless of actual losses. We placed a focus on risk management and improved crop insurance options, created new tools like permanent livestock disaster programs, and expanded coverage for underserved farmers through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance program. We added more crops and improved upon new coverage options like “whole farm” insurance for diversified producers.  We created the Agriculture Risk Coverage program to protect against both price and yield loss. 

I am also proud of the work this Committee has done to secure the dairy safety net. In the 2018 Farm Bill, we dramatically improved support for dairy producers and expanded crop insurance options for dairy. A lot has changed since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

We have seen nearly $70 billion in ad hoc assistance to producers - outside of the Farm Bill programs. Over the last 3 years, we have seen 50 individual billion-dollar weather and climate disaster events and this has led to $13 billion in ad hoc disaster assistance for farmers. Trade wars started by the last Administration caused dramatic drops in crop prices and resulted in $23 billion in ad hoc trade aid payments to producers. And the pandemic assistance packages passed by Congress delivered more than $31 billion to producers. 

I raised many concerns that these ad hoc programs are often unfairly distributed, picking winners and losers by favoring certain crops over others and funneling money to large operations over smaller farms – concerns that were confirmed by the Government Accountability Office.

There are still gaps in the farm safety net as farmers continue to face global market uncertainty and climate-fueled weather disasters. While many commodity prices are at historic highs, we also know that land, fertilizer, and input costs are also near record highs. 

We need to work together to create a farm safety net that is responsive to the needs of all farmers. Crop insurance is the number one risk management tool for producers, but historically it hasn’t been available to some farmers who need it the most.

I will continue to focus on expanding and strengthening crop insurance for all farmers - including specialty crop growers, organic producers, beginning and diversified farmers. Farmers must have the opportunity to start, sustain, and expand their operations. 

The Farm Bill provides a variety of resources for farmers to access credit through loans, micro loans, and training to help new farmers get started in agriculture. These programs need to be accessible and equitable to work for all farmers – from major commodities, to specialty crops, to dairy and livestock and everything in between. 

This Committee has a challenging task ahead. I look forward to working with all of you, and Ranking Member Boozman, to deliver a strong, bipartisan Farm Bill that strengthens and builds upon our farm safety net.

With that, I’ll turn to my friend Ranking Member Boozman for any opening remarks he’d like to make.