Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway: House Agriculture Full Committee Hearing: State of the Rural Economy

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Washington, February 6, 2018 | comments
Remarks as prepared for delivery:

I would like to thank our star witness, the Honorable Sonny Perdue, for being with us today.

It is customary for the Secretary of Agriculture to help the committee kick off a new year. This hearing is an opportunity for the secretary to offer his assessment of the rural economy and to visit with members of the committee about the full range of issues impacting rural America and agriculture.

Of course, it does not take a hearing to appreciate the hardships that rural America and our nation’s farmers and ranchers face today. Over the last four years, we have witnessed the steepest decline in net farm income since the Great Depression. Producers, who always operate on thin margins, are struggling to cover their costs. Thankfully, we have taken some important steps in lightening their load.

The administration has been moving to unburden farmers and ranchers of unnecessary regulations that cost producers a fortune and put them in legal limbo. And, late last year, Congress approved—and the president signed into law—a tax reform bill that provides meaningful tax relief for American agriculture. Regulatory and tax relief are already helping America’s farmers and ranchers by reducing their cost of doing business. In turn, this means more economic activity and jobs on the farm and on Main Street USA.

Unfortunately, on the earning side of the equation, the news has not been nearly as favorable.
Natural disasters and high and rising foreign subsidies, tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers have resulted in lost crops and chronically depressed prices. And, uncertainty over the direction of trade has exacerbated the anxiety in rural America because the U.S. farmer and rancher depends so much on access to global markets to make ends meet.

Crop insurance has been an extraordinary success story, providing critical risk management to farmers and obviating the need for Congress to approve ad hoc disaster assistance over the past decade. However, the most costly hurricanes on record have shed some light on areas where we need to make improvements so crop insurance can serve the Florida orange producer as well as the Iowa corn farmer. And, some weaknesses in the farm bill’s safety net have also become apparent, especially for our nation’s cotton and dairy farmers.

We on this committee are going to do our best to address these and other issues through pending legislation and a strong new farm bill that the president has declared he wants sent to his desk on time.

Toward this end, Mr. Secretary, you developed and presented some very thoughtful and constructive principles to help guide us in charting the course toward that new farm bill, and I thank you for that.

On the trade front, the ball is naturally more in the administration’s court than it is in ours. I appreciate the administration’s strong desire to strike better deals for the United States and to reduce if not eliminate our trade deficit. But, as you know, Mr. Secretary, there is also a very deep concern in the countryside that none of the gains we have made in the way of market access for farmers and ranchers should be lost in the process. In this regard, you have been a critical friend and advocate and, again, I thank you.

With that, I would like to recognize my friend, the Ranking Member, for his opening statement.
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