Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on USDA Nominees Xochitl Torres Small and Robert Bonnie

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 to consider the nomination of Xochitl Torres Small to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development and Robert F. Bonnie to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm Production and Conservation. 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. We are here to consider the nominations of Xochitl Torres Small for Under Secretary of Rural Development and Robert Bonnie for Under Secretary of Farm Production and Conservation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If confirmed, Congresswoman Torres Small and Mr. Bonnie will lead the USDA programs that interact with our producers, small businesses, and rural families where they live and work. That’s a big responsibility but one that I know they are both well-qualified to tackle.

Rural America is facing two significant challenges right now. The climate crisis, and the extreme weather that comes with it, is changing the way many farmers, ranchers, and foresters operate. At the same time, our rural communities are still working to recover fully from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these communities were already struggling before the pandemic.

USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Risk Management Agency under the Farm Production and Conservation mission area play an important role in helping farmers, ranchers, and foresters manage their risk, protect their soil and water, and continue to produce the safest and most abundant food supply in the world. It is critical that this mission area has strong leadership.

I appreciate that Robert Bonnie, President Biden’s nominee for the Under Secretary post, brings decades of experience in building partnerships and closely collaborating with farmers, ranchers, and foresters. I want to underscore that in our conversations, Mr. Bonnie has stated his commitment to tackling the climate crisis and boosting farm income at the same time with voluntary measures.

That approach has earned him the support of many of the nation’s most respected farm and food organizations including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Pork Producers Council, the American Soybean Association, and the American Sugar Alliance. 

USDA Rural Development provides rural communities and the businesses and local governments that lift them up with the support and capital they need to succeed. As the granddaughter of migrant farm workers and a native of rural New Mexico, Xochitl Torres Small has spent her career finding ways to help vulnerable rural communities.

As a Congresswoman, she prioritized improvements to high speed internet and reliable water for her constituents – making it easier for children to learn and farmers to grow. If confirmed as Under Secretary, Congresswoman Torres Small will be a leader for USDA’s work in small town economies—I cannot stress enough how important that is.

Getting this position reinstated, after the Trump Administration eliminated it, was no easy task! I led the effort to put it in the 2018 Farm Bill because 60 million rural Americans deserve representation at USDA’s highest levels.

Thank you to Congresswoman Torres Small and Mr. Bonnie for joining us today, and I look forward to hearing your visions for the mission areas you will lead if confirmed. I would note that you have both received letters of support from multiple organizations, and I ask unanimous consent that those letters be entered into the record. So ordered. 

With that, I’ll turn to my colleague and Ranking Member Senator Boozman for any opening comments he’d like to make.