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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Opportunities and Challenges Facing Farmers, Families, and Rural Communities

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 the hearing titled: “Opportunities and Challenges Facing Farmers, Families, and Rural Communities”. 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.  Secretary Vilsack, thank you for being here today. The work you and your 100,000 staffers undertake each day supports American farmers, small towns, and consumers alike, and protects our food system locally and globally.

You’ve been busy on a number of fronts…making sure WIC moms can get baby formula amid a national shortage, creating more opportunities for rural small businesses, strengthening opportunities for American farmers both at home and abroad, mobilizing USDA to respond to the climate crisis, and equipping our supply chain to better withstand shocks like the pandemic and Putin’s war on Ukraine.

Your work reflects the range of challenges facing our farmers, families, and rural communities right now. During the pandemic, we saw how the highly concentrated food supply chains left both farmers and consumers vulnerable. Essential workers were on the front lines without adequate protection. Farmers had no choice but to destroy the crops and livestock they could no longer sell. And millions of families did not have enough to eat. The previous Administration gravely mismanaged USDA’s ability to address any of these crises.

Under your leadership, USDA has implemented the historic investments in the American Rescue Plan and the Consolidated Appropriations Act to support local and regional businesses and get the supply chain moving again. And after four years of disastrous trade policies, putting our farmers back on solid ground with our trading partners has been no small task.  This has been even more critical as Putin’s unprovoked war on Ukraine strains our global supply chain, putting the food security of millions in peril, and causing prices for everything from diesel fuel to fertilizer to skyrocket.

While Congress and the USDA have responded quickly with humanitarian aid and resources to grow domestic production, there is still more we can and must do. USDA is also helping to empower small towns and rural communities. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, USDA has expanded high-speed internet and invested in the roads and bridges that keep main street moving.  Mr. Secretary, I hope you can expand upon how these investments will increase the quality of life for the millions of people who call rural America home.

But we won’t have a home for future generations if we don’t tackle the climate crisis. Wildfires and droughts out west, early thaws and late freezes in Michigan, and torrential floods in the plains…all pose great risks to our ability to produce and distribute food. That is Costing us – quite literally. The good news is that while farmers and foresters are directly affected by the climate crisis, they are also uniquely positioned to address it.

Farmers are eager to partner with USDA on cutting-edge research and innovation to increase yields, to participate in USDA conservation practices to protect the soil, and to invest in climate-friendly practices that are profitable and practical for farmers. Our Growing Climate Solutions Act, for example, goes hand-in-hand with the work USDA is doing to help farmers lead on the climate crisis.

Finally, all of us can agree that we want to make sure we have a rural economy that helps small towns thrive, gives producers a good return on their hard work and keeps food on all our tables. Again, welcome to the Committee, Secretary Vilsack. With that, I’ll turn to Ranking Member Boozman for any opening remarks he’d like to make.