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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Trade and Horticulture Policy 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: Trade and Horticulture”. Live video of the hearing is available here.

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

Welcome to our witnesses – Under Secretary Taylor, Under Secretary Moffitt, and Ms. Charles. Thank you all for being here today. Ranking Member Boozman, I know you share my view that we have a very important job ahead of us – passing the next Farm Bill with strong, bipartisan support. I am confident this Committee is up to the task.     

Last year, our Committee examined USDA’s research, rural development, and energy programs. And now we begin the new Congress with a review of the Farm Bill’s horticulture and trade titles. These titles represent the breadth of American agriculture – supporting our specialty crop and organic farmers, strengthening our local food systems, building new markets abroad for all of our commodities and products, and delivering critical food aid across the globe.  

I am proud that Michigan is one of the most diverse agricultural states in the nation. From dairy, apples and asparagus to blueberries and cherries, Michigan farmers produce over 300 crops. The message I hear from these farmers is clear: Federal farm policy cannot be a one-size-fits-all model. In the context of today’s hearing, let me speak specifically about specialty crops. Our fruit and vegetable farmers face rising labor costs, increasing import pressures, and emerging pests and diseases.

I am committed to passing a Farm Bill that improves their ability to manage risks and market their products. Our attention to their issues is vital to keep American-grown fruits and vegetables on our tables. Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, we have seen continued growth in the organic sector, which exceeded $63 billion in sales last year. We need to continue to support our organic farmers, including those transitioning into the program. 

It is also important that we made the Local Agriculture Market Program permanent in the 2018 Farm Bill. And, we have seen a surge in demand for locally sourced foods during the pandemic, underscoring the need for more investments in our local and regional food systems. Globally, we are facing unprecedented levels of food insecurity, compounded by high food prices, supply chain challenges, and Putin’s war against Ukraine. Our farmers play a vital role in providing U.S. grown commodities to feed those in need, and Farm Bill development programs help to build resiliency on the ground.  

The Farm Bill also creates opportunities for American farmers to connect with consumers around the world by providing marketing assistance and credit access. Agricultural exports have grown from $66 billion in 1996 to a record of more than $191 billion in 2022. That’s more than 1 million American jobs on and off the farm. Our witnesses today will highlight how these vital programs support the diversity of American agriculture. 

The success of our agricultural economy requires continued investment in markets and opportunities for all farmers. Whether they are selling to their neighbors or exporting products globally – and whether they are growing traditional commodities, specialty crops, or organics – the Farm Bill helps farmers put food on tables here and around the world. We all have a stake in continuing to make sure this happens. That’s what this Farm Bill is all about.