The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee held its first official farm bill hearing Thursday and Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., highlighted the steps agriculture has made throughout the past several decades, specifically the fact that the average U.S. farmer feeds 150 people. She says agriculture has continued to grow; farmers have innovated and become even more productive and better stewards of the land despite economic and budget struggles throughout the last decade.
Michigan farmer Barry Mumby testified at the hearing stressing the need for a safety net that buffers farmers from weather losses or unexpected financial meltdowns such as those experienced in recent years. He believes American farmers have realized their moral obligation to be as productive as they can on every acre to help feed the world. Stabenow says the world is being fed not only because of farmers’ innovations, but also by farmers in every part of the world learning new strategies to be more productive.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified Thursday emphasizing the importance of America’s farmers and agriculture industry. He says the U.S. relies on American agriculture for its food, feed, fiber and fuel. Also he said U.S. producers preserve the environment and help drive the national economy, and that USDA supports farmers in their domestic responsibilities and international role, and seeks to conserve the nation’s natural resources, build thriving rural communities and ensure every American has access to healthy, safe, affordable food.
As legislators prepare to write a new farm bill, Vilsack says they will have to discuss how USDA continues to support those various goals. But the Secretary also understands there will be fiscal and political realities about the size of the debt, deficit and tight budget environment on the process. He says USDA is prepared to do as much as they can with fewer resources, but he has no doubt that cuts will have real impacts for American agriculture and the American people. Vilsack is asking top leaders at USDA to think creatively about how they do business, and asked the legislators do the same as they write the next farm bill.
Vilsack also asked Agriculture Committee members to give USDA the flexibility to serve American ag and the American people as effectively as possible. While prescriptive programs are appealing, Vilsack says they can make it difficult for USDA to deliver the best results for Americans. Giving USDA that flexibility and time needed to adjust can make a big difference - according to Vilsack - who also asked legislators to recognize that the U.S. has to grow its way out of the deficit, not just cut its way out. He stresses that USDA is ready to adapt and innovate - but they need clear goals and resources to get there.