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tv   Agriculture Secretary Testifies on Presidents 2023 Budget  CSPAN  May 13, 2022 10:06pm-11:48pm EDT

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[inaudible conversations]
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>> i'm going to call the subcommittee on agriculture, world development fda and related agencies to order. good morning and welcome to the second budget hearing for this subcommittee for fiscal year 2023. secretaryco vilsack welcome back and thank you for joining us and
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we welcome you here too. we are glad to have let that be here today. the department of agriculture's best mission includes ensuring the health and care of our nation's land, plants, and animals as well as improving the quality of life and economies in rural the department serves americans that the county, state and national level but even more locations overseas. we are grateful for the work of the usda employees to support our farmers and ranchers at home and abroad. fiscal year 2023 budget request for usda is ambitious and i'm pleased that this request continues investment in climate resilience as well as support for our rural economy. it also includes funds to ensure that socially and geographically disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are able to access the services and opportunities that
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are essential to their success. i look forward to discussing these initiatives among the many others included in your budget requests. i am also pleased the budget continues to invest in programs that support our rural communities, the back lawn of this country. rural development in clute significant increases from broadband to housing to water and wastewater infrastructure. as inflation drives up homeownership opportunities and rental prices it is essential that we ensure rural americans have access to affordable housing. i'm pleased to see increases for rural housing programs. one issue that i know is important to both of us mr. secretary is insuring usda employees have the resources that they need to get the job done. we spoke last week about some of the staffing challenges that you
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face and i hope we can have a good discussion this morning about solving this problem and how this subcommittee can be helpful. thisom subcommittee has a long tradition of bipartisanship and i look forward to working with our ranking member as we begin the process of drafting the fiscal 2023 bill and again thank you for being here this morning or day look forward to your testimony. our chair is not a right and we will recognize senator hoeven ascendancy does appear but why don't we begin right now with your testimony and at the conclusion of that we can recognize the ranking member. >> thank you madam chair and i appreciate the opportunity to be here this morning at a. shape the attention of the committee members as well. let me start with the very important and i think significant statistic about the ag appropriations process.
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not since discretionary spending over the last eight or nine years has grown by 27.4% across all departments while the usda's discretionary budget has grown by 14.3%, roughly half. essentially this has created challenges with reference to the department and i appreciate the chairs commented on two of the three that i'm going to discuss today. you mentioned the issue of staffing. madam chair i can tell you this is a very serious issue for us. when you look at our nutrition programs we have seen a doubling of the amount of resources that go through those programs. we have seen the workforce be cut by 25%. we talk about rural development the department that basically in charge of 3142 rural counties across the united states, 15% of
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america's population roughly 75% thof americans land masks deals with 30 to $40 billion in loans and grants each and every year. it oversees a significant portion of the 230 billion-dollar loan portfolio that we have that usda but it sure 500 workers. when we take a look at the backroom operations of usda the departmental administration we have seen in nearly doubling of responsibilities in w that department but the workforce is being cut by 43%. it's essential and necessary for us to talk about the staffing levels the usda in its necessary force to talk about research. while health care research is understandably grown significantly by as much as order% over the last decade research in the attic area has flatlined if you take inflation into consideration. at one pointnt in time he
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representative 4.3% of the overall non-defense research allocations and appropriations for for the federal government today it's 2.3% so it's literally been cut in half. despite the fact for every dollar we investt in every culture research there's a return of $17 that's a pretty good return on investment. their hope would be as we talk about the budget we focus on the important role of agricultural research. you mentioned rural housing. that's also a challenge. we appreciate the additional support and help this committee has provided in this space but the reality is we continue to struggle to maintain adequate housing and we are going to see over time a significant reduction in the number of units as loans are paid off. essentially what happens is those units convert from being subsidized to being available at market rates. we are encouraging this committee to take a look at ways
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in which we can decouple the interest rates and the mortgage loans from the subsidization so we can continue to provide additional units and also investing in the rehab of existing units of housing is not only o available. decent. in the time that i have remaining madam chair let me talk about something that is a concern to me that is the net outside of the purview of this particular department and this budget committee but is something that's is something we have to all be concerned about. there are 61,670 farm families in america today that are on the brink. 61,670 farm families that are either the linkline in their loans to usda or bankrupt or pending foreclosure. this is a serious issue and i'm pretty confident that every single member of this committee
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probably has a number of those 61,000 farmers living in theirhe states. it's important and necessary for us to put a spotlight on the challenges. these are people who have our own from usda are headed guaranteed loan from usda which means they haven't been able on their own to go to ay commercial bank and secure financing. these are folks who need help or they need assistance. i've representative farmers during the 1980s as a small-town lawyer. i can tell you their pain. i can tell you the stress. i can tell you the decisions that folks make under these circumstances. i can tell you a very tragic decisions that they make under hethese circumstances. i would hope that as we talk about the future of agriculture in this country that we don't loseha sight of the 61,670 farm families. they deserve our attention and they deed serves some creative
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thought about how we may assist them during this time and i sincerely hope it can work collaboratively together in a bipartisan way to make sure they have a hopeful future as opposed to one that is stress filled today. i see the ranking members here so i'm going to stop talking. >> senator hoeven. >> thank you madam chair and thank you secretary for doing us today. good to see that i appreciate our conversation earlier and of course your testimony today. welcome back in front of the committee. the department of ag touches the lives of all americans every day in every way and that's certainly true, probably more chair now than ever. it highlights the importance of our food supply and the importance of what our farmers and ranchers to for our country every single day.
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food security is national security and our farmers provide the highest quality food supply the world. right now we are struggling with inflation. we see it with their farmers and ranchers and consumers across-the-board and we see it prices the people pay at the grocery store and we see that the pump. today gasoline hit h a record price average across the country of $4.40 a gallon in that range. we have got to find ways to produce more energy in this country and i find ways to addrs the supply chain issues that are creating inflation. our farmers are big part of that. they are seeing it. in their price not only for fuel for their tractor and what they have to do the harvest implanted crop
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but also fertilizer imports. it's important we do what we can in terms of the department of agriculture as well as the energy pinch to address these issues. we need to continue to work that and of course we are making significant investments in this ag appropriations committee to make sure the we are able to do that on behalf of our farmers. in recent years fiscal 22 received an increase of 6.2% over the fy21 levels and that included funding increase of 6.5% for research which has been amazing in terms of what it's done for our farmers and ranchers and our ability to raise crops and animals. i've seen it in my own state and i know you have seen it in
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yours. it's truly remarkable. also the resources are important to to help get our farmers through it routes, floods, tough weather and in some cases trade agreements that aren't fair in keeping our farmers a going. i want to be sure our commitment to support rural america is as strong as ever and i know you share that. you have some ideas on how to do that in i'm sure we will talk about those this morning. also i want to make sure the money we have putut in place for things like the livestock relief program for our farmers and that those funds get out to our farmers. we talked about that and we will talk about it more today. you're coming up with ideas and i appreciate that i met or were
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too working on it. thank you for being here today. i appreciate it very much. thank you madam chair. >> thank you. we are now going to begin rounds of five minutes of questions and i will begin. mr. secretary rural america has historically lagged behind urban regions in educational attainment poverty levels and overall well-being. data shows rural america has recovered from the great recession at a slower pace than urban america. which also has major implications for rural america's ability to adapt to the current economic and inflationary trend. i was excited to see usdaso formally brought launch the rural tartars network which we provided initial funding foreign fiscal year 2022 appropriation.
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mr. secretary can you provideryn update on how the rural partners network is being implemented and how it will target hunting to distressed communities and additionally talk about the fiscal year 2023 budget proposal a 30 minute million for this initiativend and what additional resources will these funds provide and a three-part question what agencies that usda and other departments play a role in this initiative? >> madam chair this is a pretty significant question you have asked. the partnership network is really designed to provide intensive care and direction and focus on communities that have been persistently poor, communities that had a poverty rateie in excess of 20% or more than 20 or 30 years. theyui require living, working
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raising their own families in these communities and helping community leaders and organizations access c the variy of her brands that are available. we started this in five states georgia, kentucky, mississippi, new mexico and arizona. we have targeted communities within each of those five states. we are in the process of hiring staff today who will actually live in communities with enough states that we have selected through a process. those individuals identify programs and challenges in projects that folks are interested in pursuing and they will work collaboratively with her teeng, federal agencies and three commissions who will have what are called rural rural officers and each of those agencies so transportation, hhs, transportations etc.. they are responsible for working
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collaboratively with the folks on the groundd in those communities t to identify the programs that short-circuit if you will the process for applying for successfully resources. our belief is by providing this care in providing and all of government approach will be in a position to provide a meaningful progress that folks will be able to see and they will learn if you will how to participate in federal or grams and working collaboratively with with statee and local governments. our hope is we are able to expand this program significantly whichch is why we have asked for an additional $30 million. this is going to essentially pay for individuals who will be living in those communities and work in those communities and state directors overseeing these operations. it will also providers additionl training. we know there's a significant amount of training that's required for leaders to understand u the process that ty
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have to go through in applying for various grants.nt these resources will allow us to expand our program. a we have investigated five states that hopefully will be able to significantly expand this effort across thes united states in places were we have had problems that just haven't gone away. >> thank you. have you identified these five additional states or are you still in the process of the data collection effort? >> we have identified those five additional states and i know a few of them. >> you can follow a. >> i think actually wisconsin and north carolina would be one of them and i'm sorry i can't remember the other. >> please just follow-up afterwards. that's totally fine. now it's time to recognize senator hoeven for your first round of questions.
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>> thank you madam chairwoman. mr. secretary at the end of september we authorized funding for wic plus and livestock assistance. that was about $10,000,000,000.750 million for what you referred to as the price relief program and 9.23 million available for wic plus. we have talked about that and we appreciate the working b relationship. relief assistance is out there for livestock reducers. about 560 million the remaining part you are working on and i appreciate that. i want to ask you about wic plus. where are we in getting it out to our farmers? >> appreciate the support from
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congress senator. we are in the process of finalizing the work that will allow us to. fill the application required for farmers to benefit from the program. in the past there t were roughly 250 questions that would be asked at the farmer to be answered to be able to apply for the funding. we are going to. fill out t applications at the d of the day will just be a handful of ox is that h have toe checked hope is in a couple weeks we announced the structure and the framework for how you go about applying for t these resources. >> what i appreciate it is it's taking longer to getss it set te one to announce it will be quicker. >> we are going to do this and to tranche is. you mentioned the livestock situation.
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$560 million has been provided additional resources will be provided in a second tranche for folks that weren't covered by the program when they had a loss covered by some of those programs. we have taken the informationhon data and from crop insurance and that program and we have prefilled to the application. there will be a smaller second round p of funding. >> once it's out with like to have someone get out there and talk to us commodity farm groups so we can explain. >> our state folks will continue to do this at the state level and our state direct as that's part of their responsibility. >> livestock indemnity program we appreciate that and we had
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some calf mortality not only in our state. other places. it's a very important issue. one of the things we talked about is where you have a lot of the mortalities in the spring s blizzards. that is not reflective of the cost of those animals and i'd ask if he would work on an adjustment they are and also making sure for animals that get sick because of that whether they may not die right away but they died later in the livestock indemnity program applies to those animals. >> we are focusing on those two plus the issue of time limits. those are three issues we are taking a look at. it's obviously a challenging one because it's essentially we try to do with the livestock program what we do on on the crop site.
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we look at the market as being almost like a crop and comparing and contrasting it to that. we p are in the process of takig a look at this because you've raised the issue about what has happened in north dakota and we are also taking a look at the cost recognizing that could be delayed. there may be a problem that aoccurs initially but it doesnt service until many months later and we recognize and appreciate that. both of those issues are being looked at by the team and we are trying to figure out ways in which we could potentially provideal for more annual production information as we do with crops. it might make it easier for us to have a better understanding of how to value livestock depending upon the disaster. as it is now we have to collect this data on the disaster by disaster basis and it's problematic. >> ics. appreciate that but it's
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particularly that one category. we are saying in that category. i know you understand that. thank you. >> thank you madam chair. >> thank y you senator hoeven. i understand there's a special birthday today. happy birthday senator. it doesn't put you up in the queue though. sorry about that. senator leahy. >> thank you. i'd like to wish the senator a happy birthday. .. chat and -- good to
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see you. secretary, i want to discuss new addition. i worked with senators baldwin, shelby in the fiscal year 2022 spending for the department, new investment for the department to establish institutes of rural >> . >> the answer is the real partnerships so they cannot plan for the future gentle —- challenges who has priority of this committee and forge a
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connection between public and private and i think they are extremely important. and to understand rural america. when do you anticipate departments will live forward and how will usda partner? those would be best practices to be, used in those areas? >> the national institute is our lead agency. they are in the process of working with staff to make sure we are structuring this program in a way that is consistent with congressional intent and the feedback we have received with how these institute should be set up. i foresee they will work closely and collaboratively with missionaries think that economic research service to collect data and information
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i'm sure theye work closely with rural development to make sure we know what kind of programs as i have shared with that share the world partnership network i imagine institutes in be interested to study the impact of those partnerships. obviously we will continue to work with the research aspect of usda so there's great possibilities and potentials on the challenges to make sure we know exactly what it is you want us to do it can be an incredibly broad array of t things but that's the reason why we are listening i suspecte we get this going by the end of the fiscal year. >> what you're hearing from everybody because of covid of food insecurity in our country is the food banks and i can be said about every state.
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schools are facing of usda child nutrition waiver especially during the summer months i'm pleased to see it ministration increased funding as a vital source for the food bank and there is another area where vermont has been a leader in growing local and that's been hard to get that included so to be more involved in this civic center we established a local and regional food aspect of this year where we ask state agencies to work with us to provide $600 million as the initial effort so that food
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banks would be able to access locally grown foods of the state of vermont for example could encourage that for food banks in the school meal program and then to complement that commodity. >> thank you mr. secretary. on the final spending package fiscal year 2022 to be very transparent to return the congressionally directed spending and i want to applaud the subcommittee they way they worked across the aisle under your working with us on that with prod bipartisan support.
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thank you. >> senator collins. >> welcome mr. secretary. prior to your confirmation we had an in-depth conversation leading to my decision to vote for your confirmation. we discussed two issues in particular will follow up on those issues today with my disappointment. and then with the efforts and those that have discovered what was being produced by the
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cattle contains some of the highest levels ever reported for some contaminant. and water and krups on —- crops all across main. for their livelihoods and for their families they are facing extreme financial hardship and we have learned us state on —- ga case program only covers so it does not begin to cover all of the problems for these dairy farmers in particular. i sent you a letter with an
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update i received no response. then in march i sent you a letter that was signed by all the members of the delegation requesting usda use all existing authorities and programs to provide assistance. the response to that letter as 1:24 a.m. this morning. we never received a letter to my october letter and the letter to you we sent in march we got the response literally at 1:24 a.m. this morning. putting that aside will you
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work with us to identify programs so we can assist these farmers. >> the reason i'm surprised by your question because i'm under the impression we are providing and mados for livestock as opposed to fluid milk. we started paying for the milk that was damaged and realized that was not adequate. so we're in the process to begin to pay farmers for the loss of livestock. we have taken action. i apologize for not answering letters. i can tell you the young lady behind me began test i put a concerted effort to get a
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response to congressional inquiries i'm embarrassed by this and i apologize. we will try to do better on the correspondent side which is why you got the response at 1:48 a.m. better late than never but certainly not responsible as it should be. what i think we need to do is we are working with epa to establish a national standard on what is an acceptable level of pfa s so we can define the level of assistance required you are absolutely right this is pervasive not just in maine but everywhere. basically sledge was used without the understanding or the appreciation of a challenge. happy to work with you to set a national standard and with this committee to establish an
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amount of resources that would help deal with this issue it will be a large amount and i would certainly say we need to make sure we continue to fund research because we will continue to find challenges to things we have done for years and years. >> i look forward to our second round spent last week president biden announced a major disaster as a result of multiple severe wildfires including one that was initiated by a prescribed fire that escapes control. want to make sure the usda is fully prepared to assist but the emergency ridership
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protection program will be essential and that recovery. the subject but i am expect the number of communities may do so soon. but and then to conduct those assessments to implement recovery or we are hit with a thunderstorm. >> and the only way but then to work tour make sure. >> can be did to doable your
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adding additional personnel. >> one of the other areas that is important for the same perspective is within the farm service agency for example the lifestyles can deputy program is just not set up for the scale for the demand we will see of the immediate aftereffects of the fires so i would also just ask that you look closely and make sure they can get i on the ground to meet people in the communities to get them to what they need to do to ask those accesses
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programs. >> if it w turns out that staffing is not adequate their search teams we can put in place tragically we have far too much experience not just new mexico but many other western states we understand we have to do. >> what of the related issues for you isn that it goes back to when you talk about the royal partners network, many communities affected are under resourced as you describe it in a significant need for assistance in those communities with the new mexico delegation actually request t-wave the car share but not the appropriate for usda disaster programs simply because these are the exact same communities they
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reference before that are barely getting by before they were devastated by these fires i like to work with you to develop some guidelines for what might be inappropriate car share in this case. >> to the extent that we have the capacity to do so we are happy to work with you. >> great. let's shift gears. agro voltaic's and i want to ask, does they have an effort in court infrastructure and research expertise for these programs it looked at to the
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committee? >> as the expertise set off we necessarily have the resources which is why i would be with the ars facilities. and then we need so not only this area but in terms of staffing and abilities with those facilities. >> i hope the committee will look at this we had a number of places around the country where there has been where taking land out of production to do or noble projects we have seen great success in a few places. and then increase for the farmers that think that has a lot of promise. secretary, as ye
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usda natural resources conservation service, the nrcs, assist state and local bodies with flood mitigation and water quality improvements, erosion control and several things related to that through the watershed and flood preventions operations program, which is really important to state like mississippi. like many wrote amenities and land owners across the country, mississippi and his people have been hit particularly hard in recent years by excessive rainfall, flooding and other problems caused by natural disasters. the watershed and flood prevention operations program has been invaluable in 11 small towns to recover from these events, and importantly to prepare for the next one. because we know the next one will be coming as well.
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in early june 2021, many parts of mississippi experienced just unprecedented rainfall. some receiving more than 12 inches of rain in less than 12 hours. my office was getting phone calls all day and videos during that time. and as you might expect it caused severe flooding and the roads and bridges and failures of dams and levees and everything that such an event as that would cause. thousands of mississippians were affected and millions in damages occurred. fortunately we have had pre watershed and flood prevention operations administered by nrcs, but because of the problems and similar problems i mentioned i requested 8.4 million and watershed operations finds in fy 20202 agriculture appropriations bill for nrcs mississippi to address some of our challenges. funds were used to support
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nearly ten or more projects across nine mississippi counties. that provision became law with the enactment of the consolidated appropriations act 2022 and i think chair baldwin and ranking member hoeven for supporting my request throughout the conference process. but i am on request staff the many constituents we have great respect and don't know what we would do without nrcs and we appreciate the many services that they provide. but mr. secretary, what is the status of the watershed and flood prevention operations funding provided in that fy 20202 omnibus? and i'm looking for some feel good news that it is, you know, being put to very good jews. use. but please share any updates that you may have as to the funds provided by nrcs in mississippi are or will soon be utilized to help rural communities and land owners addressing floodwater and these
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issues that i just articulated. >> specifically, the $8.4 million, they are cs folks are folks are which was a local sponsors of the projects that were identified to basically work through the plan so that process is in place. in addition, the state of mississippi was the recipient of $47.8 million of additional resources under the bipartisan infrastructure law. the 500 million allocated under that law for watershed and flood prevention operations, mississippi receiving $47.8 million $.8 million of additional resources. so nrcs is working on a variety of projects in mississippi. my staff will be able to give you a list of the projects that were identified in the 47.8 million. we are working on, for example, a big project with madison county on a streambank erosion issue. we know that a lot of the
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sediment issues and mississippi are not a result of you losing your topsail. it's result of the banks basically eroding and overtime creating some challenges. so i think you're going to see significant activity in this space in mississippi because of the money and resources that have been provided to the appropriations process and to the infrastructure law. >> wonderful. appreciate that answer. and i have got a few seconds left. rural communities across u.s. we will always be faced with these weather-related challenges and i was pleased that the fy 2023 budget request for usda included the wfpo funding in it as well. should congress provide funding to address project or watershed specific challenges to the wfpo and fy '23, how confident are you that the nrcs can put those funds to do just? >> i'm confident they can as long as we continue to increase the staffing levels. i think the key is not just
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increasing the resource about making sure you've got the staff on the ground that can implement these resources in a proper way. >> thank you, madam chair. >> thank you. senator feinstein. >> thanks very much, madam chairman. i just want to say you have a very tough job, to start with. my understanding is that the weather has become a real problem for fire. since 2017, wildfire has burned in million acres in my state, california, killed nearly 200 people and destroyed more than 32,000 homes. even as we speak i understand the large wildfires are burning in new mexico and arizona. so what do we do? the agencies have been chronically understaffed. meeting federal wildland firefighters are moving to state jobs, particularly in my state, because the pay is better.
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so, mr. secretary, i want to know what you think would help most. is it that rise in pay? what is it? because we have got to hire enough people to handle what's going to happen with global warming, and that particularly goes for my state and i'm very concerned. >> senator, thanks for the question. i think it is important for us to do two things, actually three things. one, transition some of our part-time people to full-time status which would provide them additional pay and benefits. we are doing that. we are literally transitioning hundreds of firefighters. two, a new new classification system for wildland firefighter. we are in the process and is directed by congress and the president, we are in the process working with the department of interior and the office of personnel management to develop a new classification that will create a more competitive salary scale for wildfire, fighters.
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then three, we are going to continue in from the additional resources that were provided under the infrastructure law to provide additional pay this year that will allow us to be able to do a better job of recruiting and retaining our workforce. so those three things are in a process of being done and you think you are going to see more firefighters on the ground, which is going to be absolutely necessary because we are not going to see an abatement of these wildfires for some time. >> well, in your recently released ten year strategy to address this crisis you indicated your focus would be on communities most at risk. and this is especially important for more rural communities in california at the wildland-urban interface. it's my understanding that your fire shed map identified that many at-risk communities in california are not near federal lands, which means they won't be
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eligible for most forest service funding for wildfire mitigation. how is the department going to help rural communities, especially those not adjacent to federal land come to reduce the risk and become more resilient? >> welcome your support and support of others in the senate passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law is a response to question because $1.5 billion of resources that you allocated for the forest service will be provided state and local communities for that very purpose, giving them the resources to be able to work with us. it is the collaboration, the fact that may not be on a particular map doesn't mean we won't work with those local communities, provide technical assistance, direction and assistance. we do that all the time but now we have the resources if we can get those local and states resources to be able to provide more committee preparedness, more training, more support for
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the volunteer fire departments, et cetera. so $1.5 $.5 billion is incredibly important. >> you certainly have my support, i do want to say, i think for the largest state in the union, my concern about fire in the last ten years has just gone straight up. i see these fires and i see what can happen. and i really don't know what we can do to give you the resources to put up the ability to stop the massive fire in our state. >> that ten tenure five mitn strategy is designed to do that. and certainly the bipartisan infrastructure law was a start in terms of the financial resources necessary, but committees are going to have to continue to provide that support over the next decade for us to see a significant reduction in the risk. because we have hundreds of
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millions of acres of dead trees as a result of pine bark beetle and climate. we got a substantial amount of hazardous fuel buildup that has been addressed. it's going to require resources. we got them for the next couple of years. the key will be to continue that effort over ten years. >> let me ask you this. i would be most interested in helping with the plan if you have one, to see that we can provide what we need to provide. i am really very worried, because california is extraordinarily dry and fire is a real enemy. >> we will absolutely work with you, senator. >> thank you. appreciate that. thank you, madam chair. >> thank you. senator blunt, you are next. >> thank you, chairman. secretary, great to see you, and i think every appearance may be some kind of record because of your long service in this job, and i'm grateful that you've done that and continue to be
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willing to do it. you and i talked about this before. i was a supporter of relocating the headquarters of ers and nifa to another location. that turned out to be in kansas city and, of course, i was even more pleased with that. there was report issued by gao that stated that the previous administrations decision to relocate those agencies was not fully consistent with the evidence, with an evidence-based approach. you then pointed out or the department pointed out that the gao juice metrics established after the relocation and that that was not exactly a fair analysis of what they would been looking at at the time. i've been at the location recently. they are about to really come alive frankly for the first time. great space but highly
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underutilized because people have been working from home. i'm wondering based on your previous role and the perspective you would have if you have seen yet away that this move alters operations or applications. i think that locations with three our car drive from eight different land-grant universities, which we thought was one of the principal advantages we might have in future, but have you seen any difference yet in operations there? or what have you seen in terms of filling job vacancies in that location? >> senator, we have go about 750 people between the ers facility and the nifa missionary. we are about 650. we've seen about 450 folks who have been hired in those two missionaries pics of the hiring has been i think robusta i think people are anxious and interested in working in that
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environment. we've got some great people who work over there and they turn out the work regards of pandemics, regardless of whatever the challenges may be. we had a morale issue which we're dealing with anything as we hire more folks that issue becomes less of an issue. the work is getting done and it's getting done on time. the reality is that those agencies have great working relationship with land-grant universities and minority serving institutions all across america. i would say as we look at this concept, the challenge i think this should do it in a way that provides less disruption than the way it was handled before. i think there are ways to do that, and i think we're going to see a lot of good work coming out of that so sadly. i have no doubt about that. >> i appreciate that and i think the lots of reasons, cost-of-living and other things that are reasons to look at
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other locations now as we think about expanding here or moving some somewhere else. and i appreciate your sense that the impact on the current workforce and how you may be transitioning is important. those agencies, among others, really looking carefully at world food need right now and what happens as a result of what's happening in ukraine, what concerns do you have and what should the department do? should we make more american acreage available in some for siebel window that might not be available otherwise, or should we step back from taking more acres off-line as figure out what happens with this great food producing part of the world being so impacted in africa and other places that it benefited from that, that raw, unprocessed food stuff being impacted?
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>> senator, i'm traveling to germany tomorrow and then to poland in order to get a firsthand look at the situation in ukraine. we have a twin challenge. we have immediate global food security chose by virtue of the disruption that the invasion has caused and, in fact, is going to have on unstable potentially unstable conditions in middle east and north africa because of food shortages. we need to address that and this one is reasons why we tapped the bill, part of the shout of there isn't just tapping the trust of making sure it is replenished which i think is important in the supplemental appropriations bill you are considering would begin that process. the other challenge for the trust is the transportation cost. it's amazing to me that it costs more than the value of the product we are transporting to get that food to ethiopia and some of the north african countries. i think there is an opportunity for us to look at ways in which they could potentially be
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addressed. i would say with the second challenge is the issue of climate because that's good impact on long-term capacity to meet global food needs, and i'm really, really excited about the reaction to the climate and forced to product partnership initiative. we have 450 applications from 350 organizations and groups, commodity groups, nonprofits, for-profit organizations, all 50 states, probably three to four times the billion dollars we put on the table. so there's tremendous interest in doing that as well. i think what we have to do is to get ways in which we can do both and one thing we could do is look for creative ways to double cropping opportunities expand, expand number of counties injured, figure out other administrative ways to make it easier for farmers reducing the risk of double cropping. >> thank you. thank you, chairman. i've may be of the questions either for the record for a second-round if there is one. >> we are starting it right now and i will recognize myself for
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five minutes of questions in the second round. mr. secretary, i want to talk a little bit about climate smart agriculture. our farmers and ranchers, producers experience firsthand the impacts of climate change and i appreciate this administration's whole of government approach to combating the climate crisis, including the u.s. department of agriculture is efforts to conserve and protect our nation's national resources while enhancing economic growth and creating new streams of income for our producers. can you give the committee and update on the climate smart agriculture activities of the department? and also what is the department doing to ensure that farmers,,
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ranchers and producers of all backgrounds are able to access the resources needed to strengthen their climate smart agricultural practices? >> there are three ways i would like to respond to that question. first, there has been a significant effort on the part of nrcs to catalog and characterize climate smart practices, and to provide information on 33 different activities that farmers and producers can take to be climate smart whether it is reducing greenhouse gas emissions or whether it is sequestering more carbon. and we're going to continue to do a better job of providing that information. nrcs has worked with the grant program with 118 different organizations that are connected to minority producers and socially disadvantaged producers historically underserved producers in an effort to try to make sure those individuals who may in the past is that backend
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of information get that information. that program is going to continue. that something we feel very strongly about. that's in addition to the additional technical assistance provided efforts underway under the american rescue plan under section 1006. you provided resources to be up to expand. we currently have 20 larger building organizations connected to minority producers that are also working to make sure they have the full array of fsa and nrcs programs. secondly, as i just mentioned to senator blunt, we are realld about the response to the billion dollars that was put on the table to ask producers to put together pilot projects and demonstration projects. the fact we got 450 applications from 350 different 350 different organizations and entities across all 50 states, even at the minimum were talking $2.2 billion.
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i know some of those applications were for $50 million or more, so i'm i'm pretty sure we're probably 3x or 4x to what we put on the table. so there's obviously tremendous interest there. and then finally i think there is again a research component to this in which we are working with nifa working with others to provide the tools and technologies and the capacity for farmers to have a better understanding of what climate smart i can easily be able to measure qualified and verified it. >> thank you. i know we are on her second round of questions but i'm going to interrupt the back-and-forth of democrat and republican to allow senator tester to ask his first round of questions. >> goodness. if i only knew what is going to ask. i want to, first of all, thank you for being here, secretary vilsack. it's always good to see you doing the lord's work, making sure the family farmers and
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ranchers have a shot out there. and we all know that rural america has been declining and is going to continue to decline unless we do some things a little differently. you know where i'm going with this. a few weeks back the senate agriculture community, i'm sure you were watching it, held a hearing on two bills to do with consolidation in the marketplace when it comes to the cattle industry your you know the statistics for foreign compass control over 80% of the marketplace, capitalism doesn't work in situations like that everyone capitalism to work. we wanted to be competition in the marketplace so that both cow/calf operators and consumers can reap the benefits of a good competitive system. the president's budget asked for
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$35 $35 million for packers and stockyards. given the issues that are just said, , i brought of beef, pork, poultry, and others, are in a very similar situation, do you think that level of funding is adequate, the 35 trillion for packers and stockyards? >> it would represent a very significant increase, senator, and and i think would be adequate for us as we strengthen packers and stockyards. this year you will probably see three rules come out from the department in an effort to try to strengthen the enforcement capacity of the department and those resources would be important to be able to do that. >> that's good because it's going to be, i mean, you are to unlocking this, you, your department and you appear to making sure you have the resources to deal with the situation in the fairway is really critical import. as a chilled enough for putting anybody out of business. what i'm for is add more competition to the market place
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and we just haven't had the enforcement capabilities. i don't need to tell you about historically bad drought west of the mississippi. last year was the worst year ever had, 44 years on the farm. grandfather built posted in -- with the exception of two years they had moved back the red river valley because of drought. this may be the worst year since then. and by the way, where i happen to live in north-central montana, -- we don't get a rain, it's going to be worse than last year. we passed $10 billion in disaster relief last fall including 750 million bucks for livestock producers. this is critically life and death money. i mean, truthfully, nobody wants
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to get a check from the federal government with the bottom line is the drought has caused prices to go through the roof. there's been no grass resource because there's been no water. there's been no crops raised because there's been no water. and so can you share any update on the progress in getting that $10 billion in flood disaster relief out the door? >> livestock producers receive checks an amount of $560 million. last month and this month. there will be a second round of funding for the livestock producers who were not necessarily covered by livestock forage program. we took information from that from this programs and basically prefilled the applications so we could move their money out more quickly than in the past. in terms on the crop side we anticipate and expect announcing this month the structure for how the crop reimbursements will take place here that will also involve prefilled applications, roughly two of 50 questions
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asked of a producer in order to build access whip+. most of those questions will be prefilled from crop insurance data and we expect and anticipate checks will come out in june. >> so doing some quick math in my head, so there's about 190 million and a livestock side that is yet to be alec is? >> it is because want to make sure we cover those producers that didn't necessarily have, that may fetish out of loss, may have had a lost the didn't qualify for one of those programs so, therefore, the wooden event the data or information available to the department so we will go through a process having them apply for the resources. >> and thank you for that. one really, really quick. i was talking, sitting in the airport last thursday and is talking to a guy who said he had received some money on cattle shipping to be able to move his cattle. is that -- certainly don't
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probably that with the price of fuel and lack of trucks. are you aware of the program? >> we are providing, we've expanded the livestock indemnity program, i believe that's that for the forage program, to include additional assistance for transportation. not sure whether it's cattle or whether it's -- i think it is transporting the cattle to where there may be feed. >> that's correct. that's exactly -- >> i do whose idea that was but right great idea. thank you. thank you, madam chair. .. >> and i want to highlight a problem we have emergency live stock relief program. we've had drought and wildfires
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across our state, but most recently in december of '21, 160,000 acres across 13 counties in kansas burned, grassland and feed sources that producers rely on to get through the winter. since those fires occurred outside the quote, normal grazing period, they're not available for lfp and not helped by disaster systems. and usda announced phase one. will phase two of the disaster assistance provide those to producers due to wildfires outside of grazing periods? >> we're in the process of a list of the disaster like the one you just mentioned to make sure we have a comprehensive list and we'll make a determination how best to spend
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and invest the second tranche of resources. certainly understands what you've outlined and i'll tell you that the concerns that you've expressed are on the list and they've been placed on the list. i want to make sure that i check with our folks to make sure that i'm right when i say we're going to consider this seriously. i don't know that we necessarily made a decision who gets what, but i know that it's on the list. >> if you would give me the chance to make the case, it should be high on the list, i'd appreciate that. >> certainly. >> does usda expect to need additional funding for ad hoc assistance? >> well, i'm never going to answer a question, do you need additional resources? here is the problem, senator, you've addressed it, our disaster assistance programs are sort of a one size fits all and the reality is now we're learning there are multiple types of disasters involving multiple areas and multiple commodities in multiple
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different ways and it's important and necessary for us to have enough flexibility and resources to be able to tailor the disaster assistance to the actual disaster opposed to one size fits all and sometimes your folks don't fit in and that's unfortunate. you know, more resources, but i would say in addition to more resources, let's make sure that to be able to use it to multiple disasters. >> i always like that flexibility until it doesn't cover something i think needs to be covered. i appreciate the conversation and perhaps you're leveraging me to suggest we need more disaster assistance or more dollars. input costs, fertilizer prices. i've asked the subcommittee that i'm the big republican on has jurisdiction over the department of customers, we're trying to do something about counterveiling duties from morocco and stop the duties on
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nitrogen fertilizer from trinidad and tobago. can you be an ally on this. >> we've look at the counterveiling positions and resources on the table to see what we can do in the united states to produce more fertilizer. we're also working with producers on crop choice and practices that could potentially reduce fertilizer use and we're focusing on a split nitrogen policy for crop insurance that will basically cover crop losses if you decide to half your nitrogen application, there are a series of things we're doing and we're working with state attorney generals to see whether or not the fertilizer costs currently paid by farmers are legitimate. it's a very interesting graph. if you take a look at the history of fertilizer and crop prices as crop prices go up, so do fertilizer costs. >> mr. secretary, thank you.
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i don't understand the love affair with counterveiling duties on components of fertilizer and appreciate any help that you can get. >> the supplement double cropping issue, planting soy beans after winter wheat announced a week or so ago, i would remind you that sorgum is a major crop for many african nations and can be planted behind wheat in many parts of kansas, additionally much of the sun flower oil is a crop that can be used in that fashion. why does the u.s. administration's supplemental request only incentivize soybean and not include sorgu machine and sunflower.
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it could-- >> would that include $10 acre to the incentives that we're looking at we're going to try to be as comprehensive as we can be. >> thank you, mr. secretary. appreciate your answers. >> thank you. next i'm going to go a little bit out of order. i know senator collins has a time schedule issue so i'm going to call on you for your second round and then senator braun for your first round. >> thank you very much, madam chair. and thank you, senator braun. secretary vilsack, you won't be surprised that the second issue that i'm going to bring up with you today concerns potatoes. potatoes are an extremely nutritious vegetable, they contain more potassium than bananas. they are good source of fiber, vitamin b-6, vitamin c and very
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important today to families that are struggling to buy groceries. they are affordable. during the obama administration, and i won't relive this, but we went back and forth on whether potatoes should be restricted in the school lunch programs and the wic programs and they were not. when you appeared before the subcommittee last year, i usda's proposed elimination of funding for the highly successful potato breeding research program. congress, on a bipartisan basis not only rejected the elimination of that program, but rather than zeroing it out, actually increased it somewhat to $3 million a year. given the strong congressional
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support, i was very surprised to see that your budget is again proposing to zero out this program, especially when the administration is seeking an overall increase up more than $2 billion in discretionally spending for usda. the universityof maine is the leader of the research in this program and has worked with growers to develop a new variety named the caribou russet that's producing high yields and it's much more disease resistant and one needs look no further than the recent outbreak of the potato ward in prince edward island in canada to understand the importance of continuing to invest in research that produces heartier crops and protects our domestic markets. so, my question for you, given
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congress' action last year, given what a small amount this is in the context of your entire budget, why are you again seeking to completely eliminate funding for the potato breeding research programs, which has been proven successful in helping our growers prevent agricultural and economic losses? >> senator, i rely on the professionals at ars to give me a list of their priorities and, you know, i think it goes back to my earlier comments about the importance of investing more money in research and more money in ars. the reality is these have been flatlined for an extended period. when they're flatlined you establish priorities. if congress basically directs us to maintain that program we obviously will, but i would hope that it does so in the
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context of significantly resources for ars and including to the facilities. the challenge that we're facing, we have projects and roughly 30 of them are fully or partially funded and that leaves quite a few that aren't so it's a matter of resources. if we have more resources, we can do more work. >> well, i'm going to give you the chart that i always hand out on potatoes and would you received from me previously, but it doesn't make sense you end up spending more money if you have to provide disaster assistance or other kinds of assistance, then if you invest upfront in the research that produces a more disease resistant crop. >> well, senator, that would be true, if that was the only crop that we had to be concerned about and the only research project, but it's not. that's the problem. we have--
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we've already discussed here today, a multiple of disasters and challenges and that's the issue. if we have more resources then we can obviously cover more research projects. >> but potatoes do not receive crop support money, they do not receive price support. >> they don't receive that support, but there's 9.9 billion pounds of food that we purchase through our commodity purchases programs which includes potatoes, so in a sense, there's also that kind of support. sometimes there's a tendency to forget the other ways in which we provide assistance, and especially crops, that's one way and not the only way. >> and i see though when i look at your previous efforts to eliminate the university of maine agricultural lab altogether during the obama administration and restrict the use of potatoes despite the institute of medicine study that there was no basis for
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doing so. i just feel-- i just can't figure out --. >> that wasn't the reason for the decision as we've explained before. it was a situation where we're trying to encourage folks to purchase those items that they would not otherwise purchase with their own resources. it wasn't that we didn't think that potatoes were nutritious, obviously and expanded for potato exports in mexico. nothing against potatoes. >> it feels like it. thank you, madam chair. >> senator braun. >> thank you, madam chair. agriculture has gotten so complicated. i didn't grow up on a farm, but lived on one since i moved back to my hometown. fell in love with the forestry side of agriculture and in indiana we were probably 90% forested at one time and got -- subsistence farming cut down to like 5%. it's kind of reforested to the tune much maybe 30, 35%.
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and value-added it equals to for the row crops, something that most people don't understand. they see the vast fields of corn and soy beans. so i think it's important to keep that in mind, to keep our forest owners healthy and to make sure that that's as important a part of the equation as the row crop side is. that simple the trees grow and get larger, don't involve any inputs and it's kind of a generational crop. what i hear most about currently is two things, it would be the concentration of ag when it comes to industries across the input spectrum that used to have so many local options, fewer and fewer companies, i think that's
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something that we've got to be aware of, the individual farmer has had to go from small acres to many acres to keep economic-- economy of scale in place. frustrated each year that they maybe got fewer options. i'd like your comment on, is that side of farming in peril because markets aren't as broad and available as they used to be? we recently cause discussed it in the ag committee on the meat packing industry. would you want to weigh in on that? >> well, senator, i think there are two issues here, one, you've identified, which is the concentration and that's absolutely true. you know, we're dealing with fertilizer issues right now. that's a very concentrated industry at this point. the processing industry, and we're trying to address that with some of the work that we're doing at usda. i think the second issue, and you also alluded to it, is the fact that there is a limited
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number of ways in which farmers today profit. they grow crops and sell them or they grow crops and live stock and feed products and livestock. what we need to do is create additional ways profit centers and resources come from the farm. and that's why your work, and senator stabenow's work is important because it basically creates the platform and the structure for that possibility that climate and climate-related activities could create a revenue stream and activities. chemical waste to fabrics, fibers, another revenue stream we're trying to support. i think the key for us is to address the concentration issue and creating multiple income streams on the farm. >> that's important, any business that pro prospers over time. whatever you're knocking it out
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of the park with currently. is sure to be down the road. agriculture in terms of mono culture what you've been used to doing, it's got to reflect what you're talking about. the other real concern i hear, which is palpable, was what farmers are going to do in 2023. let's put the cost aside, that was a big challenge this year, most ended up getting the inputs they needed to get a crop out. with the current dynamic in place, with our dependency on certain inputs that look like they're in places of peril, do you think farmers will be able to get the inputs for 2023 setting the costs aside? i hear real concern about they just limp through 2022. what are we going to do for 2023? >> well, one of the things that we're looking at is whether or not there's a possibility of-- taking a look at our storage
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programs because there may very well be the capacity to purchase in store and farmers could potentially get them through a tough 2023 crop year and secondly try to reduce the amount of these inputs. that takes us into precision agriculture. i'll share with you, there's sensor technology that suggests 30% of the corn acres today in the midwest do not require fertilizer, so if we can accelerate that kind of research and accelerate the capacity for parmers to have precise information about the forms, we may get them through a process, maybe not 2023, but the future where they're not as reliant as they have been on the inputs. >> leveraging technologies and markets would be the hall mark of any successful sector of our economy and never more applicable than in agriculture today. >> thank you.
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>> senator hoeven, you're recognized for a second round. >> thank you, madam chair, did you already do your second round? >> i did. >> okay. >> secretary, i'm concerned about the sugar-- in april. 220,000 tons and recently about 400,000 ton increase. i know that some of this came from production shortfall in michigan, but that certainly wouldn't be anything near 400,000 tons. so can you address that? >> senator, i want to be able to check our numbers with your number. we're under the assumption it's a little less than what you outlined, but having said that, the key here from our perspective is to maintain a proper balance and that the stocks to ratio has
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historically been somewhere between 13 1/2 to 15 1/2. we got down to 12 1/2 and what we've been able to do with this additional purchase is to put us within that 13 1/2 to 15 1/2 range and that's where we're comfortable and we think that the program works particularly well balancing the equities that are involved. >> well, we're concerned that it's going to take it above that range and again, we want to make sure that that, you know, that those increases do keep it in that range and we're not getting above it. rural broadband, obviously, you've got significant funds in terms of rural broadband and obviously, it's a priority. and i think a bipartisan priority. so, you know, where are you at with getting those dollars out and what's your plan to do it? >> we made-- there are two pots of money. the first pot came from american rescue plan and pandemic assistance programs and so forth.
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that pot has gone through several rounds. we recently completed a round. we received 305 applications for roughly 1.15 billion dollars. those applications, i think, were in the neighborhood of two to three times that amount. so, obviously, great interest. we also received the bipartisan infrastructure resources of 1.9 billion. we're now taking a look and analyzing applications, 305 application, senator, to determine whether or not there's a possibility of accelerating and utilizing some of the bill money in that third round because essentially they would potentially qualify for the same requirements that would allow us to put several billion dollars into awards to get action this year and then the balance of whatever is left from the infrastructural law, we would announce availability sometime later this year for awards, probably early part of
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23. >> being around 4 or would that be-- >> be 3 1/2. >> in other words, you're going to continue on. >> yes. >> when do you anticipate funding announcements for round three? >> this summer. we're going to complete the-- we would be able to make these announcements sooner about you we want to see whether or not there's a way of ak celebrating the built money into this round and that requires us to analyze where these applications are, how, you know, how many of them are -- would in fact qualify and just, it's going to take some time. we think by the latter part of this month, we'll have a better understanding of how much of that bill money could actually be incorporated into this round, and then that will be the set of announcements this summer. >> all right. on the child nutrition waivers, what steps are you taking as we get back to the traditional program to be ready for next year?
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what are you doing? >> let me tell you something, senator. this is going to be chaotic. make no mistake about it, the failure to have these waivers is going to have a lot of chaos in schools across the united states. there is very limited things that we can do. we don't have the flexibility to provide waivers to the extent that we've provided them. very, very limited. we can't increase the reimbursement rate. we can't expand universal free school meals, so we will focus on community eligibility. we'll focus on the limited wavers that we have. we'll take a look at any additional capacity we have with resources in terms of commodity purchases, but schools are going to have a very difficult time, make no mistake about it. >> so, i have a couple of questions left that i want to ask and i'm happy to defer, if you want to -- like another shot at it. >> we can give you a special third round. >> fantastic. >> senator hyde-smith.
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>> mr. secretary, in recent years this subcommittee has made historic methods to respond to chronic wasting disease, you know, incurable always fatal disease for the white-tailed deer and other in the family. and historically there's not known about the disease and thanks to the much from the usda and partners along with the better response efforts carried out by the state's wildfire agencies, we're start to go make great strides in cwd and hunting and outdoor recreation billions to the economy, more than 2.7 billion in economic output in miss miss alone. would you agree that our investments in cwd are paying off, that we're seeing a positive return on our investments and would you agree that we need to continue
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investing in activities related to chronic waste disease in fiscal year 2023 and beyond that? >> i think i would answer that yes, yes and yes. i think you asked three questions yes, we've had-- there's novak or cure, it's in 25 states and those resources allow us to do more testing, more management, hopefully for responsive activity. so clearly we need additional resources. >> thank you very much. thank you, madam chairwoman. >> senator hoeven. >> i want to commend senator hyde-smith just in general, but specifically for setting up my question. >> we have legislation to do more with chronic wasting disease. it's a bipartisan, martin heinrich is lead on the majority side, but we've got others on both sides of the aisle. clearly, you would basically you have comments to support that legislation and provide
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more funding to research relative to chronic wasting disease because it affects both domestic and wild animals. >> yes. >> okay. great. fsis overtime, we have got food safety and inspection challenges, i guess. i mean, we have work force challenges everywhere, but with our inspectors, we have challenges, so we've -- we included some provisions that give you more flexibility, so, where are we at with implementing that? >> it's implemented, senator. the problem is it's a one-year-- you've got to do it every year. but it does give us a tremendous amount of flexibility and makes it easier, reduces the stress. workers still have the option of working overtime hours, but for whatever reason they're just spent. this gives us the ability to continue to keep the plant open, but have the flexibility
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to have the inspectors on staff who want to be there. >> which is something you need right now. >> absolutely. >> okay. >> and my last question relates to the-- it's also a work force question and that is getting the h2a eligible people through the
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