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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at the First 2023 Farm Bill Field Hearing in Michigan

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: “Growing Jobs and Economic Opportunity: 2023 Farm Bill Perspectives from Michigan”. Live video of the hearing is available here.

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

Thank you to President Stanley, Dean Millenbah and everyone here at Michigan State University. Go Green! Welcome to the Michigan USDA team, including Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Dr. Tim Boring, Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Garry Lee, and Rural Development State Director Brandon Fewins. And welcome to Gary McDowell, Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

And I want to welcome all of our witnesses here with us today. Many of the producers here today are anxious to get into the fields—but we are seeing an abnormally cold and wet planting season. I appreciate your willingness to be here today and talk about the challenges you are facing and how the Farm Bill can continue to provide support.

When we began to plan this hearing, it was an easy decision to hold it here at Michigan State University. It’s the nation’s pioneer land-grant university, and it continues to lead the world in agricultural research and innovation. This building we’re sitting in is a prime example of the kind of innovation I encouraged in my Timber Innovation Act, which was included in the last Farm Bill.

It’s the first mass-timber building in Michigan, showcasing technology that creates jobs while using a renewable building material that also stores carbon. And my colleague who is with me today, Senator John Boozman from Arkansas, knows something about timber!

Over half the state of Arkansas is covered by forestland, and forest products are incredibly important to his state’s economy. Senator Boozman is the Republican leader on the Committee. He brings the important perspective of Arkansas’ farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.

He may be a Razorback, but today he’s an honorary Spartan. Please give him a warm welcome. Having Senator Boozman here today and holding our next field hearing in Senator Boozman’s home state is more than just symbolic. Farm Bills happen only once every five years and demonstrate a tradition of bipartisanship that has become rare in today’s Congress. Our most recent Farm Bill passed with the strongest bipartisan support ever. This hearing represents a commitment to continue that bipartisanship and build an even stronger coalition of stakeholders for the 2023 Farm Bill.

Many people aren’t aware of the broad impact the Farm Bill has on Michigan’s bottom line. I’ve always said: we don’t have an economy unless we make things and grow things. And that’s what we do in Michigan. Agriculture contributes one in four Michigan jobs, and only California grows more different kinds of crops than Michigan. Just look around this room and at our witnesses today. The Farm Bill impacts producers of so many different crops and commodities, forest landowners, and thriving businesses.  Whether it’s making sure dairy farmers have fair trade with our neighbors to the North, or expanding farmers markets in communities across the state, the Farm Bill serves producers of all types – big and small, new and beginning, family and veteran, and rural and urban.

It helps small businesses thrive, meets important needs of rural communities for things like high speed internet, and health care facilities , and makes sure Americans can put healthy food on the table thanks to strong food and nutrition policies. And the Farm Bill provides tools to protects our Great Lakes, ensuring we can keep our land and water clean for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. That’s core to our Michigan way of life. We have seen unprecedented challenges since the last Farm Bill was passed in 2018. The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in our farm and food economy – farmers were whiplashed by low prices and breakdowns in processing, while Americans across the board saw empty shelves and skyrocketing prices.

And just as our country has started to recover economically, Putin’s war on Ukraine is threatening the worldwide food supply – The good news is that our farmers have seen commodity prices go up but that has been offset by rising costs of fertilizer and other essential inputs they needed to run their business. Our next Farm Bill must address the economic security of our farmers, families, and rural communities by supporting a more resilient and sustainable food supply chain. We can do more to improve competition and expand opportunities for small, midsized and local producers that grow things at home to prevent shortages and reduce cost spikes when a crisis does occur.

And we have to acknowledge that the climate crisis is real and we are seeing its impact here in Michigan. The Great Lakes are warming faster than the oceans. Lake Superior is now one of the five fastest-warming lakes in the world! Fortunately, Michigan farmers are already stepping up to address the climate crisis—and we need to help them do more. We’ve seen the overwhelming popularity of voluntary conservation programs.

In the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which I created in the 2014 Farm Bill, for example, local leaders are leveraging federal dollars to expand conservation practices. And our leading researchers at Michigan State and beyond are collaborating with farmers to help them adapt to the severe changes in the weather. The most recent Farm Bills have been successful because of the ideas and feedback we get at hearings just like this one, where we can hear what’s working, what’s not, and how we can meet new challenges facing our farmers, families, and rural communities.

So, Thank you to our witnesses and the many people who have taken the time to submit written testimony. As we begin our work on the 2023 Farm Bill, I'm committed to supporting all of our farmers and families, creating new jobs, and ensuring that Michigan is represented on every page.