09.21.16

Chairman Roberts Thanks Vilsack, Questions Administration’s Overregulation and Uncertainty in Farm Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today held a hearing on the work of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the economic concerns voiced by farm country. 

The hearing, titled “The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Current State of the Farm Economy,” featured testimony from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. For witness info, testimony, and to watch the hearing, click here

“Eleven days ago, I and Chairman Conaway attended the Kansas State Fair, a great opportunity to hear first-hand what folks had on their minds,” said Chairman Roberts in his opening statement. “Plain and simple, farmers and ranchers are worried. The downturn in the agricultural economy is taking a toll on their pocketbooks and the health of many family operations.” 

“During these tough economic times farmers, ranchers, and agri-businesses compete at the thinnest of profit margins. Unfortunately, this Administration appears to be moving forward with regulations across all sectors that will knowingly cut these margins, hurting both producers and consumers.” 

“The regulatory framework we have today is vast, confusing and often counterproductive. We must find new ways to inject commonsense into the rule-making process across the entire federal government,” said Chairman Roberts in his closing remarks. “The next Farm Bill must provide risk management tools that are straightforward, market orientated, and defendable.” 

The following is Chairman Roberts’ opening statement as prepared for delivery: 

Good morning. I call this meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to order. 

Today is a special day for this committee. We have the administration’s longest serving cabinet member before us giving his final testimony in this historic room. Secretary Vilsack, Tom, welcome.  

It was January 14, 2009, when you testified before this committee for the first time. During that hearing I asked you to be a champion, a spokesperson, and an educator for agriculture. Many times over the last seven-plus years you have done just that. I may not agree with all of your decisions, but I do believe you’ve worked hard to promote rural and small town America.

When you were here in February of last year, we focused on the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill. Producers from across the country offered their testimony and you responded to their concerns. 

Today’s hearing is essentially an extension of that conversation and an opportunity for us all to address the economic concerns we hear rising from farm country. 

Eleven days ago, I and Chairman Conaway attended the Kansas State Fair, a great opportunity to hear first-hand what folks had on their minds. Plain and simple, farmers and ranchers are worried. The downturn in the agricultural economy is taking a toll on their pocketbooks and the health of many family operations. 

In Kansas and across the Midwest, we have had a bountiful wheat harvest, and now there are expectations for potentially record-setting corn and soybean crops. 

Most years this would be great news, however these high yields come at a time when we are experiencing large inventories worldwide. At the farm gate, the drop in commodity prices and farm income are felt first hand…and their magnitude is foremost on everyone’s minds around this table. 

In Kansas, the continued downward trend in wheat prices has triggered loan deficiency payments for hard red winter wheat for the first time in over a decade. 

With large global inventories for wheat, corn, dairy, and more, the prices farmers receive and their income levels may stay relatively low for several years - not a positive trend for agriculture producers, input suppliers, equipment manufacturers, or our rural communities and small towns.

Farm country has experienced quite the roller coaster since 2009, as noted in the Secretary’s submitted testimony. Our farmers and ranchers have seen historic high prices, and now historic lows.  

They’ve fought drought, floods, fires, disease, and whatever else Mother Nature could throw at them. That’s what farmers do…they take on Mother Nature’s worst and plow forward.  

They understand this challenge when they sign up, and they also understand it’s a part of their way of life. But, they also understand that they have a fighting chance to survive.  

However, their chances of survival can quickly go from slim to none when they’re not only battling the weather, but also the heavy hand of government over-regulation. 

During these tough economic times farmers, ranchers, and agri-businesses compete at the thinnest of profit margins. 

Unfortunately, this Administration appears to be moving forward with regulations across all sectors that will knowingly cut these margins, hurting both producers and consumers. 

For example, the Department’s new organic standards would require intensive capital investments for livestock and poultry producers and ultimately lead to increased disease and death of poultry.  

Livestock producers also face uncertainty and dread over GIPSA rules that were originally proposed in 2010. They know very little of USDA’s plans to finalize the rules, and if they can exercise their right to make comments on regulations that would directly impact their marketing abilities. 

Let us not forget that this administration has proposed cuts to the crop insurance program each and every year. Congress fought hard to beat back a proposal that would strip $3 billion out of the program last year, only to have this administration propose more harmful cuts in their budget sent to Congress months later. 

Let me say this in regards to those proposed cuts…not in this room. 

And, it’s not just the producer who is seeing troublesome regulatory proposals. For consumers, the new SNAP retailer proposed rule could force 100,000 stores to leave the program. How does this help those in need? 

These examples are just within the agriculture department. They are a drop in the bucket compared to the flood of the regulations we have seen pop up from the EPA, FDA, DOL, OSHA and other regulatory agencies that would directly hurt the wellbeing of the agriculture sector. 

Whether it is Waters of the U.S., delayed approvals of innovative biotechnologies, access to critical inputs, or new reporting requirements, these regulations have reasonable business men and women truly worried about whether they can continue as a business…and what might be proposed in the last few months of this administration. 

My fundamental concern, and the main concern from farm country, is that any administration would put an agenda ahead of sound science; that voices critical of production agriculture will drive government decisions. They fear they are being ruled, not governed. And I hope that isn’t the case. 

So today I find myself asking for what I asked for in 2009, a champion, a spokesperson, an educator who will stand up for production agriculture.  

Mr. Secretary, you’ve filled that role on many occasions, over the last seven-plus years. I’m asking to you to finish your term with that same mindset. 

I am glad that you are here today. Hopefully this hearing will shed additional light onto the Department’s plans for the last few months and calm our producers’ fears and worries during these trying times.  

I now recognize the Ranking Member, Senator Stabenow for her opening remarks.  

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