Ranking Member Boozman Opening Statement at Hearing to Consider the Nominations of Xochitl Torres Small and Robert Bonnie

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, from the hearing to consider the nominations of Xochitl Torres Small, to be under secretary for rural development, and Robert Bonnie, to be under secretary for farm production and conservation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):

Good morning. Today we welcome former Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small, the administration’s nominee for under secretary of rural development, and Mr. Robert Bonnie, nominated to lead the farm production and conservation, or FPAC, mission area.

Congresswoman Torres Small brings a wide range of experience to the table – from practicing law, to working as a field representative for our former colleague Senator Tom Udall, and serving in the House of Representatives for New Mexico’s second district.

She traveled the state working directly with the people who live and work in rural communities. Her knowledge will prove valuable as the under secretary for rural development oversees three agencies: the Rural Utilities Service, the Rural Housing Service and the Rural Business-Cooperative Service.

These agencies serve rural communities providing opportunities for reliable electricity, safe drinking water, affordable housing and sustainable economic development.

Congratulations Congresswoman on your nomination, I look forward to hearing from you today.

Mr. Bonnie currently serves as the deputy chief of staff for policy and senior advisor on climate change, in the Office of Secretary Vilsack. Like the secretary, Mr. Bonnie is no stranger to USDA, having previously served as under secretary for natural resources and environment under President Obama.

Mr. Bonnie’s prior service and work in the private sector should be helpful if he is confirmed as FPAC under secretary, as the mission area includes the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Risk Management Agency, in addition to overseeing the Farm Production and Conservation Business Center.

These agencies are critical to the success of our farmers, ranchers and private landowners, and play a key role when agriculture is hit with hard times. Commodity, disaster and lending programs as well as crop insurance, conservation programs and technical assistance are all critical FPAC mission areas.

Mr. Bonnie, congratulations on your nomination and I look forward to hearing from you.

As we consider these two nominees, we must look at the issues they confront.

One positive development emerging from fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, is that we are all appreciating the importance of our rural communities and the pivotal roles they play. The pandemic has shown us the resilience of our communities, but also shined a light on the needs in housing, infrastructure and utilities services, including broadband access.

While broadband technology has allowed Americans to work, seek medical care and keep their kids in school safely throughout the pandemic—it has also shown the acute importance of connectivity, and how many still struggle to gain access to it. Which is why we need to commit to expanding quality broadband access across rural America.

COVID has not been the only concern on our minds over the last year and half. Members of this committee know natural disasters have taken a toll.  I have seen first-hand the devastating flooding impacting southeast Arkansas and nearby states. The 2021 fire season is also underway – we have all experienced the smoke coming from the West – and well over half of the U.S. is experiencing drought.

This is why the help and technical assistance of the department’s disaster programs is critical. I hope we can count on USDA and FPAC to provide timely support as our farmers, ranchers and producers strive to get back on solid footing.

When getting back on their feet, and planning for the future, I know landowners consider many options to empower them to leverage their resources, create new income streams and be good stewards of their land.

Embracing climate friendly practices that can yield financial benefits is in everyone’s best interests. But they should be done within the bounds of the law.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered by the Farm Service Agency, is a popular program among producers that allows them to leverage their land to bring certainty and predictability to their farm and financial planning.

This is why I have voiced concerns to USDA that by overstepping its authorities, your most recent CRP sign-up may be creating undue and avoidable problems for producers. I have also voiced my concern with administrative policy initiatives that may attempt to use the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) in ways not prescribed by statute.

We need to create more opportunities for our producers, not tangle them up in more court cases. Which is why I look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack and Mr. Bonnie, if confirmed, to ensure the programs that USDA is working so hard to offer, are administered to best serve producers -- within the bounds of the law.

Working together we can provide opportunities for agriculture. The Growing Climate Solutions Act is a good example of how bipartisanship can benefit all of us. In regular order the committee had a hearing, a mark-up and reported out the act, which ultimately garnered the support of 92 Senators.

I am encouraged that the House is looking to similarly consider the bill. Agriculture stands to benefit when we work together for our farmers and ranchers. I trust the nominees with us today will pursue a similar course as they work to advance the administration’s priorities.

Congresswoman Torres Small and Mr. Bonnie are proven public servants with a history of listening to the constituents and stakeholders they serve. If confirmed, I encourage them to pursue the same level of engagement and listening with our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and rural communities.

With that, I yield back to Chairwoman Stabenow.