Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Ranking Member K. Michael Conaway Committee on Agriculture Public Hearing: To receive testimony from Secretary Sonny Perdue, U.S. Department of Agriculture, on “The State of the Rural Economy”

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Washington, March 4, 2020 | comments

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Welcome, Secretary Perdue. We’re glad to have you with us today. We recognize you’ve got your hands full.

Your hard work in implementing the 2018 Farm Bill, WHIP Plus disaster assistance, and the Market Facilitation Program has been and continues to be absolutely vital in helping our farmers and ranchers weather their seventh straight year of recession and a brutal string of natural disasters. 

I know that you and the President have taken some heat for providing Market Facilitation Program payments to farmers, but I would hate to see what the situation in farm and ranch country would be right now if you had not taken that bold step.

We would be having a very different conversation today, akin to the kinds of discussions that were taking place during the 1980s farm financial crisis.    

Our farmers and ranchers were targeted by China because the President put his foot down against nearly 30 years of predatory trade practices that hurt American workers as well as our producers. 

So, the first and second MFP programs were as justified as they were critical to our farmers and ranchers — and I strongly believe that unless something gives here very soon, an announcement of an MFP-III will also be absolutely vital to the survival of our producers. 

I am grateful that the President communicated directly with farmers, ranchers, and rural America last week to reassure them that he and his Administration are going to continue to stand by them come hell or high water. 

For those who have ideas on how to improve the MFP so it works better for their producers, they should talk with the Secretary about their ideas rather than criticize this vital assistance that literally means the difference between farming another year or losing the farm.

To the critics, I would just say, they ought to be a part of the solution rather than always being a part of the problem.  

Mr. Secretary, I also greatly appreciate all that you and the President are doing to open up new markets for our farmers and ranchers.

Passage of USMCA, completion of a Phase One agreement with China, the U.S.-Japan agreement, and the U.S.-Korean agreement all hold out great promise for our farmers and ranchers and I know you and the Administration will be vigilant in ensuring that that promise becomes a reality. 

The real potential for bilateral agreements with the U.K., with the E.U., and with India are also very encouraging and I especially appreciate your leadership, Mr. Secretary, in pressing the E.U. to at long last adopt Norman Borlaug’s green revolution which has saved billions of lives while conserving natural resources worldwide. 

If we are to feed 9 billion people, the path Borlaug charted decades ago remains the only acceptable path forward.

That’s why I am pleased with the work you are doing, Mr. Secretary, in your recently announced Agriculture Innovation Agenda. 

Reducing food waste, enhancing water quality, conserving resources, and strengthening U.S. energy independence are all goals we can and should be able to agree on. 

Thank you for leading the way on this effort and for making our nation’s farmers and ranchers an integral part of your plan. 

There is one issue I want to visit with you more about and that is making for sure that the WHIP Plus disaster program complies with the law and your strong belief that the program should incentivize higher levels of crop insurance, not hinder them. 

Unfortunately, an unintentional glitch in the WHIP Plus formula means that farmers who bought higher levels of coverage are penalized more than those who bought lower coverage in the case of unharvested acres. 

I know that this is not your intent and I believe that USDA did not desire this result — but it is a serious problem and I think it ought to be fixed so we honor the intent of the law and your conviction that disaster aid should never undermine crop insurance. 

I look forward to continuing our work on this issue to minimize these disparities.  

But, for now, I want to reiterate my thanks to you and the President for all you are doing to stand by our farmers and ranchers through some very difficult times.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

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