Opening Statement: Republican Leader Austin Scott General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee Hearing: “A Hearing to Review Farm Policy with Undersecretary Robert Bonnie”
Washington, February 8, 2022
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Chairwoman Bustos, and thank you to Undersecretary Bonnie for being with us today, and congratulations on your confirmation to head up the Farm Production and Conservation – or FPAC (eff-pack) – mission area.
Just over the course of the past 5 years, FPAC has been called upon to deliver multiple rounds of disaster assistance, implement the 2018 Farm Bill, provide assistance to combat illegal tariffs from China, and protect our food supply in the face of disruptions due to COVID. The ability to roll all of these programs out, often in the face of very challenging circumstances is certainly admirable and it gives this subcommittee plenty of fodder for oversight. We should use any lessons learned from recent years to inform our work in crafting future policies.
Although I grew up on farms, today, I am a part of the 98% of Americans whose primary connection to agriculture is eating every day. Only 2% of people in this country are classified as producers, but thanks to USDA’s broad definition to include anyone with just the potential to produce $1000 in sales, that number overstates things.
The reality is there are just about 200,000 people left that are the full-time farmers – most of which are still family owned - responsible for producing about 85% of our food. This point can’t be overstated. That’s 85% of our food, coming from about 10% of our farmers. This thin green line of producers is all that stands between us being reliant on other countries for food and fiber.
That is why it is critical that we have effective farm safety net programs with reasonable limitations and a well-functioning insurance system that is available to everyone to make sure a weather or market related bump in the road won’t drive these folks out of business.
And our farmers need advocates at USDA and within the Administration that will push back on wrongheaded policy proposals that might threaten their businesses in other ways.
Unfortunately, in looking at actions at agencies like the EPA, whether it be WOTUS or pesticide approvals, it is clear that our farmers and ranchers are in desperate need of someone to be their champion within the Biden Administration.
This hearing is an important opportunity for us to examine the current safety net, both Title I programs and insurance, and begin to think about improvements that can be made in the next farm bill, which will be on us before we know it. In order for us to be successful, we will need input, assistance, and information from FPAC.
Additionally, I hope we can spend some time talking about how we can improve the level of service farmers are getting from their local FSA offices. The FSA employees that I know are hardworking people that are passionate about assisting producers, yet unfortunately I continually hear from frustrated producers that aren’t able to visit their county office and from employees that are still being forced to work remotely even though their local community is getting back to work in person.
Mr. Undersecretary, thank you for appearing before us today. In my opinion we are a bit behind in our oversight responsibilities and will need to get up to speed on these issues quickly if we are going to complete a farm bill on time next year. I hope we will have your help and the cooperation of the agencies you oversee as we embark upon that task. Thank you again for being here and I look forward to your testimony.
Madam Chair, I yield back.