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Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Farm Bill Implementation

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing titled "Implementing the 2018 Farm Bill".

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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this important hearing.

Deputy Secretary Censky, thank you for being here and welcome back to our hearing room.

It’s been 10 months since Congress passed the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill with the support of 87 Senators. Now, farmers, families, and rural communities across the country are seeing the Farm Bill take shape in their daily lives. This is true in my home state of Michigan, where agriculture supports one in four jobs.

The changes we made to farm safety net programs are helping farmers protect their crops from increasing uncertainty caused by weather, markets, and trade disruptions. I’m especially pleased that the USDA has prioritized implementing the Dairy Margin Coverage program, which has provided more than 22,000 dairy farmers with assistance so far.

The Farm Bill also recognizes the diversity of American agriculture, which is critical in Michigan where we grow a wider variety of crops than any state but one. New kinds of crops and types of production, like hops and greenhouse operations, now will have access to crop insurance. More than 600 farmers in my state are getting involved in hemp production for the first time in decades. And urban farms in places like Detroit and Grand Rapids will have new opportunities to grow and expand their operations.

The Farm Bill also improved tools to help farmers preserve our land, water, and Great Lakes. I am glad that the USDA has held sign-ups for all conservation programs this year, including those that Congress prioritized to address water quality and promote climate-smart agriculture. I look forward to seeing the Department continue to implement the Farm Bill’s conservation improvements, including the changes we made to expand regional partnerships and increase locally-led conservation.

The Farm Bill also expanded rural internet service, prioritizing the most underserved areas. I’m pleased that the USDA is following Congress’ lead by forging ahead on new rules that make it easier for small towns and rural communities to access high-speed internet.

So there are positive developments to celebrate, but I do have strong concerns that the USDA is rewriting critical parts of the Farm Bill that we passed by the largest bipartisan vote ever, prioritizing some regions and farmers over others, and pursuing rules that directly contradict the will of Congress. 

Congress prioritized local food systems, organic production, and beginning and minority farmer programs. But many of these provisions have yet to be implemented.

For example, the Farm Bill established new provisions to strengthen enforcement of organic imports, but the Department has dragged its feet to set up other important organic integrity provisions that clarify how dairy farmers transition into organic production. 

Key components of local food investments are awaiting action, and the USDA has still not set up the Office of Urban Agriculture. 

The Department has repeatedly made partisan changes to nutrition assistance that were outright rejected by Congress in the Farm Bill because they increase food insecurity for hungry families.

There continues to be concerns that the Administration isn’t doing enough to share important research and other information with farmers about how to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. Just two days ago, the Forest Service went against the Forestry Title of the Farm Bill by proposing to open Alaska's Tongass National Forest to destructive logging. This moves us in the wrong direction on the climate crisis.

Additionally, the Farm Bill reinstated the Under Secretary for Rural Development position, but the President has yet to nominate a qualified candidate.

It’s also clear that lack of capacity at the Department is affecting Farm Bill implementation. The Administration has hamstrung agriculture research and Farm Bill grant awards by the senseless decision to relocate the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Deputy Secretary Censky, I know you have played an important role in managing Farm Bill implementation. While I appreciate the progress that has been made in many areas, there is still a tremendous amount to do.

I look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure each provision is implemented correctly and consistently with the legislative intent of the 2018 Farm Bill

Thank you.