04.24.18

Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on the State of Rural America

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at the hearing titled “The State of Rural America” featuring Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

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

 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

First, I’d like to welcome Senator Hyde-Smith to our Committee. Senator Cochran left big shoes to fill—however, with your experience in agriculture, I’m sure you will continue to be a voice for the farmers and families of Mississippi and I look forward to working with you.

And thank you, Secretary Perdue, for joining us today. It’s been one year to the day since your confirmation and we are glad to have you back before the Committee.

You have been very busy over the past year and we are looking forward to hearing an update from you. In particular, I know you’ve been hitting the road on your RV tour – including two visits to my home state where you spent some time learning about all of the great work happening at my alma mater Michigan State University.

Today, I look forward to hearing your perspective on the state of rural America. I know that you and I both have small town roots. I think we can agree that rural communities are great places to live, raise a family, and start a business. However, many of these communities face unique challenges.

Mr. Secretary, I know you’re well aware that the farm and rural economy has been in a tough spot. Economic hardship and the need for food assistance remain higher in many rural communities. You also know that low commodity prices have continued to plague our farmers.

As I’m sure you heard in Michigan, our dairy farmers have struggled with market instability – and for too long they haven’t had a reliable safety net. After working with Appropriations leaders for the last year, I’m pleased we were able to deliver much-needed improvements for dairy farmers, as well as cotton growers, in the Bipartisan Budget Act. Mr. Secretary, I appreciate very much that the USDA has worked quickly to roll out the new and improved Margin Protection Program we created.

Unfortunately, the struggles with low commodity prices have been compounded by uncertainty around trade. And, I share Chairman Roberts’ concerns on this. I believe we need tough trade enforcement when countries like China break the rules – but we must do everything we can to ensure there are no unintended consequences for our farmers.

The impact of retaliatory tariffs would be felt by farmers directly and indirectly. It doesn’t just impact Washington State when the state can no longer ship apples to China – it makes it harder for Michigan farmers to market their apples at a price that keeps them in business.

We also need to address unfair trade imbalances. In Michigan, we are world famous for our tart cherries. Unfortunately, a flood of imports from Turkey is harming the success of our cherry industry. Mr. Secretary, I’ve called on the USDA to protect our cherry growers from unfair import competition by approving a bonus buy – and I urge you to take action on their request.

Given the state of the economy, we need to be investing in the future of our farmers and rural communities. That’s why I was disappointed that the White House decided to double-down on proposed budget cuts that would hurt agriculture and rural families.

Mr. Secretary, at your confirmation hearing, you vowed to be a strong and tenacious advocate for rural America in this Administration. Maybe we need to get you a megaphone, because not everyone in the Administration seems to be getting the message that we need to do more to improve the quality of life in rural America – not less.

Recognizing this, Congress acted to reject these harmful cuts and instead deliver much-needed investments. In the recent bipartisan Omnibus, we provided the USDA with $600 million to expand high-speed internet, and added over $1 billion for much-needed rural water infrastructure improvements. The bill also finally fixed the Forest Service’s broken budget and provided new tools to protect rural communities from devastating wildfires.

On top of that, Congress worked on a bipartisan basis to give the USDA important resources to fill vacant positions at the Department, which will improve customer service. I urge you to use all of these tools to ensure our farmers and communities are getting the service I know you are committed to provide.

We look forward to hearing more about your work to implement this bipartisan budget as well as your ongoing reorganization efforts at the Department.

Thank you.