tv Agriculture Secretary Testifies on Farm Policy Rural Issues CSPAN July 15, 2022 3:53am-6:03am EDT
secretary of the department of agriculture with us. it welcome. in addition to thanking you for being here today, i want to thank you and your 100,000 staff members who undertake every day to support american farmers, small towns and consumers alike in all of your work to protect our full system -- food system locally and globally. you have been busy on a number of fronts making sure moms can get baby formula among a shortage. i appreciate how quickly you went to notify. i want to thank senator boseman for working together on a bipartisan basis to take action that was important for our committee to do last week. creating more opportunities for role small businesses and strengthening opportunities for merrick and farmers both at home and abroad, mobilizing behavioral response to the
climate crisis and equipping our supply chain to withstand shocks like the pandemic and putin's war on ukraine. your work reflects the range of challenges in our farmers in rural communities right now. during the pandemic we saw how highly concentrated food supply chains left farmers and consumers vulnerable. essential workers on the front lines without protection. farmers have no choice but to destroy the crops and livestock. millions of families did not have enough to eat. the previous administration gravely mismanaged usda's ability to address any of the crisis appeared under your leadership, use da has implemented the historic investments in the american rescue plan and the consolidated act to support local and regional businesses and get the supply chain moving again. after four years of disasters
trade policies, putting our farmers back on solid ground has been no small task. this has been more critical as putin's unprovoked war in ukraine strained our global supply chain as we know, putting the food security of millions in peril and causing crisis from diesel fuel to food prices to skyrocket. congress and the usda have responded quickly with humanitarian aid and resources to grow domestic protection -- production, we know there is more we can do together. usda is offering to empower small towns to the bipartisan infrastructure law. usda has expended high-speed internet and investing in roads and bridges that keep mainstream moving. mr. secretary, hope you can expand upon how these investments will increase the quality of life for millions of people who live in rural america.
we will not have a home for a generation if we do not have -- tackle climate crisis. torrential flooding in the planes all shows a great risk to our ability to distribute food. the good news is, while farmers are directly affected by the climate crisis, they are also uniquely positioned to address it. farmers are eager to partner with usda and cutting edge research and innovation to increase yields, to participate in usda conservation practices to protect the oil and to invest in climate in practices that are profitable and practical for farmers. our growing clement solutions act that we have done together goes hand in hand with the work usda is doing to help farmers lean in the climate crisis. all of us can agree that we want
to make sure that we have a rural economy that helps small towns thrive, gives the producers a good return on all of their hard work and keeps the food on our tables appeared, welcome to the committee. i will now turn to my ranking member, senator boseman. >> thank you. we appreciate having secretary in the committee. i would like to congratulate the charwoman for hosting a very successful hearing in april on the campus of michigan state university. this was the kickoff to the 23 farm bill process. i enjoyed learning. they have shared many of the goals for our next farm bill that are highlighted by our witnesses. it is amazing come over the you get outcome of the arkansas or throughout the country, farmers really do have some much in
common and share the problems that they are facing. i am delighted that the charwoman will be joining me in arkansas for a second field hearing. the committee will be noticed later today. i am pleased to share with the community we will be holding our next hearing in jonesville arkansas. i am excited to share the news with the families in the chair woman and the collects of my committee. this is a unprecedented time for agriculture. as you come out of the global pandemic, we confront a war in europe which has chucked out the size of the worlds grime and production. global food insecurity has become a my good friend recently told me he is now faced with the decision to take a food from hunger people to give it to starving people. our farmers and ranchers faced
declining farm incomes and higher income costs. i have got some examples of that and will put them for the record. usda can play a constructive role to help american farmers and ranchers meet the challenges of both here and at home globally. also, i applaud the nomination of alexis taylor to serve as the under of agriculture for trade, foreign arboriculture affairs appeared america desperately needs labor -- laser focused on u.s. agriculture at this critical moment. i will encourage usda to stretch itself and fellow agencies to make the decision necessary to enhance global food security. prices will decrease when the costs go down.
more participation in the labo r production and certainly for farmers and ranchers. until the administration starts to focus on the -- driving food costs, there'll will be no relief and american families will continue to suffer. i will keep making that case to the administration at my colleagues and encourage them to work with us to create an environment where those factors start trending in the right direction and prices start to come down the road i appreciate the announcement from the usda made this morning that will allow additional flexibility for those with expiring crp contracts. i think it is a great step in the right direction. i believe we can do more. one suggestion is look to the past. in the 2000 14, farm bill, landowners enroll in the program. they were giving the opportunity to end the contracts early without penalty. we should give consideration to this penalty free incentive
again until grain production returns to normal. i believe this >> ability will it would allow akers to return to food production, second, this is more focused on epa than usda. there should be a two year pause on any regulatory changes to currently approve the crop protection tools. producers need the regulatory protect ability to plan for the future. the companies that produce these inputs need the regulatory certainty to bring those tools to the market. american agriculture can meet this unprecedented moment. the federal government should ensure it is not in the way. with that, madam chair, yield act. -- back. sen. stabenow: i am very much looking forward to coming back to arkansas. i'm looking forward to it. thank you so much.
again, i want to welcome secretary vilsack back to the community. my first turn as chair from 2011 to 2014 coincided with his first term at the usda. i secretary for agriculture under president obama, secretary vilsack put americans back to work by investing lay the rural economy, advocating for american producers and he helped them see record prop -- crop prices and exports and make sure americans had access to nutritious food. prior to his current term i sec. he served as the ceo and president of the u.s. dairy x or counsel -- expert counsel. he was the 40th government of iowa. a former member of the iowa state senate and a former mayor of his hometown of -- hometown. thank you. a pleasure to have you before the committee and we look forward to your comments. sec. vilsack: thank you, madam
chair. i appreciate the opportunity to be here and i appreciate the invitation from you on the ranking member for the opportunity to be in front of this committee. it would be helpful if i could highlight three recent announcements in my opening statement. i will be glad to respond to questions that the committee has. as we all know, we are dealing with a situation involving infant formula thanks to the quick action of congress, you all provided the department of agriculture additional authority in terms of wic that will allow us to work with those who produce formula in this country to create more supply. we just sent a letter to all of the state health commissioners as well as to gerber, nets -- nestlé and johnson indicating our willingness to work with them to provide waivers so that they can continue to expand contract and options, in terms of the wic state agencies allow the use of contracted brand
alternatives that were not previously authorized as well as temporarily allowing them to use noncontract audits to be substituted. we will pay the rebates. in the wic budget itself so that companies will not be at risk, financially for these substitutions. it will help assist in expanding access to product. we also filed today an -- in an effort to create new better markets for our farmers, the beginning of a process on our act. we start with the poultry rule, there are two components to what we have disclosed today. the first is an effort to create better transparency between integrators and producers, providing additional information to the producer before they enter into contracts. it is modeled after the ftc franchisee disclosure efforts. it is designed to help producers better value the costs and risks that they are taking in entering
a contract with an integrator. it allows them to manage that risk by knowing a bit more about who they are doing business with. we are requesting that they provide information regarding the number of placements and stock density, history of payments under prior tournaments so folks can understand where they might be in the process. a bit of information on the background of the integrator whether they have been in bankruptcy at any one in time, whether they are involved in litigation. and the ability for producers to provide that information, and those who are providing legal assistance so they are in the best possible position to understand and shape the risk. there will be an exemption for a very small poultry dealers in this proposal. in addition we have provided additional disclosures concerning the inputs that a farmer is receiving, both at the time of placement at the time of settlement. we want the former to be able to understand the breed, the
facility that was breeding the stock, that they are bring -- being provided the sex, health issues and may have cropped up and essentially at the time of settlement, understanding the distribution of input, the housing specifications, feed disruptions that may have disrupted the rankings. all of this is to avoid deception and provide farmers the ability to understand what they're getting into. a 60 day comment period, we believe from our analysis that the benefits of transparency and additional disclosure exceed the costs. we will also be filing a study that was done in competition in the retail area. we are announcing today that $200 million effort to help existing meat and poultry facilities into intermediary loan programs.
to create revolving loan funds to assist and help those facilities to remain in business we are announcing a $25 million effort to expand workforce through our programs. we think this is an opportunity to expand capacity. this goes along with the additional opportunities we announced in terms of processing capacity. we received 263 applications for the grants that are available. the totals to a $95 million of interest, 46 states, 1100 applications, 69 pork applications, 25 and 14 goat. the projected cost of all of these is roughly $5 billion. there is great interest in this program. i might say in my remaining time, we also saw rate interest in the climate smarts agriculture and forced three products -- force to products. we received 453 applications, $18 billion in requests from all 50 states, a diverse full of
applications, nonprofits corporations, government entities, commodity groups, tribes, universities, small and large corporations, a wide range of commodities involved. this is the first of two application deadlines, june 10 is our small application deadline. $8 billion of additional leverage. there is tremendous interest in this program. i would be happy to respond to questions from the committee. sen. stabenow: thank you, mr. secretary. i know leader mcconnell has to go to the floor to help open the floor. who said bipartisanship is dead? i'm going to defer to senator mcconnell. please go forward with your russians. -- questions. >> i'm here today, because i have a particular problem that i am trying to address, but it is going to come down to you. here's what happened. last december we got hit by the biggest tornado we have ever had.
it ended up being on the ground for over 200 miles. it hit and largely destroyed the town of mayfield, which is the biggest grain storage facility in our state. completely wiped out. so, i want to thank you for you all have already done to help all numb -- all numerous occasions as we try to recover but as part of the destruction with a grain shortage going on in western kentucky, not only do we lose millions of bushels of storage, we've got a problem that has to be fixed or we are basically out of business this year. so, what i did was put a provision in the appropriations bill tha -- that asks you to identify funding sources that we
can address pretty quickly to not completely lose our ability to have storage for this year's crops. i don't know if you are familiar with this or not but i wonder if you have any awareness of it. and if you can give me any assurance that maybe we can address this issue by your decision shortly. sec. vilsack: i am aware, i know our staff has been in touch with the farm bureau down in your state as well as your own staff. i understand there is an idea of a series of pop up storage facilities there. there are some concerns about how cumbersome that particular solution may be. but we are very committed to working as expeditiously as possible to provide an alternative and to provide the resources that will allow your farmers to have storage. i understand and appreciate the challenges that this presents an we are committed to trying to get it resolved as quickly as
possible. >> i really appreciate it. it's an emergency. the only question i would ask, anyone at the table could ask, that is this inflation issue that we are all hammered with. it amounts to well over $5,000 of increase annually, including $780, an additional cost for food. in a rural state like mine and a lot of members of this committee have similar states, small business and family farms are getting hit at both ends. every single conversation i've had with farmers in the last year, the burden of increased cost has been right in the forefront. one recent study from texas amm estimated despite how are commodity prices are, form profits will drop yearly 60% in 2022. due to these higher input costs. since january of 2021, animal
feed has increased 43%. diesel fuel, 115%. natural gas 202%. fertilizer to 20%. -- 220%. agencies like epa interior and others, but on driving these costs up further. have you worked with your colleagues across the administration to an arm them how this regulatory onslaught is contributing to the burden of farmers? sec. vilsack: senator, our focus at usda is try to figure out ways in which we can provide assistance and help on the number of issues you've raised. we're looking at ways in which we can increase productive land, going into production. as the senator indicated, supply does have a tendency, if you expand it, it has a tendency to bring costs down and increase income. in terms of fertilizer, there are number of things we're doing.
we are working with farmers to make sure they are fully aligned with the right application, time, location,, the right amount. we have also provided a new risk management tool that encourages split application of nitrogen to reduce the cost to farmers. we are picking up the loss of productivity that may occur if they are unable to fertilize twice in a year. we have also allocated $500 million to looking at a broad array of options in terms of how we may be able to expand fertilizer capacity in this country and not be as reliant and -- reliant on outside sources for fertilizer. we are also looking at a number of strategies in terms of ways in which we can better if utilize agriculture to ensure we are using fertilizer in the appropriate time and amount. there is a series of things we are doing. i would only finish by saying
part of our responsibilities also to provide help and assistance to the families as he mentioned that are struggling. that is the reason to get the snap program where it is. it's important to promote the wic bonus we have in our budget. it's appropriate to take a look at ways in which we can help our schools deal with the consequences of all of this. that's why we ask for a continuation for one-way year -- one more year for free school meals. there are number of ways we can provide assistance for families to get through this difficult time. sen. stabenow: thank you very much. let me just say, mr. secretary, talking about fertilizing and inputs and costs, we hope in michigan to be able to help with this as a new effort to -- we know part of the ingredients, that is not been produced in the u.s. we hope you're going to have new
production of these materials in the u.s., so we're are less dependent on what is happening around the world. the climate crisis, i would like to talk with you a bit more about this. we know, whether it is what happened in kentucky, or last weekend in northern michigan in the small town, which i don't ever remember having a tornado. not one that went through and wiped out a very important housing project. mobile home park, downtown small businesses, and so on, people are picking up the pieces for a long time. we the crisis when severe weather, and carbon pollution has been doing for us. 100 years of carbon pollution in our face right now. i encourage the efforts that you are putting forth. i know you said you have received a tremendous response to the partnerships for climate
smart commodities pilot project. i wonder if you can talk a bit more about what that means and also how our efforts, going climate solutions act, others on the committee and myself are putting together something to pass overwhelmingly in the senate. not too often you have 92 out of 100 votes. the effort to create some integrity around these systems and transparency and expertise. i wonder if you might speak to that as well. how that effort which is unfortunately, has not moved yet in the house, we are going to get this done and get it to you. and how it will help farmers as we look at the climate effort that we are working on together. sec. vilsack: that act, madam chair is extraordinarily important. it provides a vehicle through which we can provide a level of technical assistance as farmers and ranchers need to be able to
understand and appreciate climate smart practices. we have been providing technical assistance to both the house and senate at committees in an effort to find common ground. in terms of the climate smart agriculture and forced products initiative, this is to great opportunities for marketing of climate smart commodities. we think it is an opportunity to expand income for farmers to be able to allow farmers to qualify for eco system benefits. we are very pleased with the reaction from farmers and ranchers. we listen to them. they asked us to set up this pilot. they asked us to set up resources to enable farmers to aggregate their efforts. this is an effort that will result not only in adoption of climate smart practices and acceleration of those processes but an opportunity to verify and quantify the results from those practices that will allow us to better understand how to
establish the standard for climate smart commodities. it is also a way in which we are enhancing the notion of partnerships and leverage. finally, it is a chance for us to really understand it, to be ahead of the game. for american agriculture not to lead our own domestic effort but internationally to respond back and push back a bit on some of the other approaches to this that are occurring in other parts of the world. we think it will jeopardize the ability to increase productivity. there's an opportunity to increase productivity to be sustainable at the same time. this is part of an overall strategy that only includes this initiative, but taking a look at 33 climate smart practices and having our nrcs folks work cleverly with -- collaboratively with farmers, it is about renewable energy, better forest management, about a workforce, adaptation and mitigation, where trying to address this in a cumbrian savoy. sen. stabenow: this is so
critically important for all of us. let me ask about urban agriculture. i authored several provisions in the 2018 farm bill, including the establishment of an office of urban agriculture in innovative production which we now have a directive of which i am appreciative of. i wonder when we talk about resiliency and community and access to food, urban agriculture is a very important part of that. it is part of the efforts in michigan that have been going on across the state. it started with incredible leadership in detroit. what specific actions does usda -- is usda taking to better serve the needs of urban producers? can you describe the priorities for the new office? sec. vilsack: there are 17 cities, designated 17 counties if you will. we are expanding that number this year. there were 11 and we are adding six new cities.
in addition to having an office, and a presence, we are providing grant money to promote innovative solutions in those urban settings, whether it is vertical agriculture, community gardens, across-the-board, additional resources for that purpose, composting and addressing the food loss issues. the exciting opportunity as well as to have fsa offices located in those cities. it is an opportunity for urban farmers to understand and appreciate all of the range of programs that will be available to them. we have -- are working on a toolkit to refresh the tool kit on urban agriculture so you have the opportunity to share with those who are interested in establishing an urban agriculture activity in their city. it is sort of vote, here is how you do it. -- sort of like, here is how you do it. sen. stabenow: we're going to go out of order one more time because our distinguished chair committee is -- senator durbin
we will turn it to you. >> good to see mr. secretary. this is a rare appearance because we scheduled the senate judiciary committee has the same time as agriculture and it is difficult. thanks to the remarkable cooperation of senator grassley we got things done early this morning. i got a chance to visit here for moment. i wanted to ask one very important question on behalf of 8000 people in the state of illinois. sec. vilsack, you probably remember from your days of trekking through iowa, how important some of these senior activities are to our rural populations, for many of us, it is a chance to get together during the course of the day andj it is the highlight of their day. for over 25 years, illinois has had a model where we have snap benefits available to the seniors. and they pull them in senior living facilities.
150 of them around the state each day for lunch, they get together. this has been ok for more than 20 years. but a few years ago the department said not ok anymore. we said, what is the problem? they said, fraud abuse. they did an investigation. it is just the use of the snap benefits in a pool situation to pay for their lunches. so, we have, thanks to the cooperation, thanks to the cooperation of the senators, each year the bill extended the program, so that they could continue to pull lisa snap benefits for their lunches at the senior facilities -- pool visa snap benefits for their lunches at the senior facilities. can you fix this for us? sec. vilsack: where try to work with the state to develop a framework or pilot that would allow this problem to go away so you would not have to deal with it each and every year in the appropriations process. it is an invitation for us to look at ways in which the snap program can be more accessible
and meaningful. i think we have to be significantly flexible as we deal with an aging population in many of these states. we are committed to working with illinois to figure out how to establish a pilot in a way that does not require you to have to go through the situation every year. >> thank you, thank you madam chair. i appreciate the opportunity. sen. stabenow: we're so glad you're part of the committee so thank you. >> thank you, madam chair. thank you for being here with us today. rice farmers in some of our specialty crop growers may lose hundreds of millions of dollars due to increased input costs. unlike almost every other commodity, they have stagnant prices. they simply have not increased, they have this in arms increase as we all know what their input cost -- in an increase as well know what their input cost.
again, we are concerned about specialty crops. are you committed to working with us to ensure economic viability of our domestic rice producers and others like --who may experience in difficulties? sec. vilsack: i hope all of your questions are this easy to answer. yes. >> i hope all of your answers are like that. can we get i guess out of that? thank you very much. let me talk to about the conservation reserve program. i think all of us appreciate the fact that you are being flexible in that regard. that is a good thing. i don't think we really understand. i know this committee, i can speak for the sender, we are very concerned about what we do not want to do is get ourselves in a situation like a b formula -- baby formula shortages. we don't really understand what is happening exactly, the difficulties in ukraine, all of the stuff that is going on now,
to really understand where we are going to be at. what i would ask you is in regard to authorizing, allowing crp contract owners to leave the program early to open up even more, is this something that is being done in the past. can we just really really hard -- work really hard to get good data to know if we need to be doing some of those things, tinkering on the edges? you have a bit, but again, what we do not want is significant shortages, but also, again, looking at the inflation, what we projected going further, americans -- i just got through a primary campaign i can tell you as well as anybody people of arkansas draw the country are just getting all of their discretion he dollars enough -- discretionary dollars enough by
rent. sec. vilsack: we have taken a look at acres that are currently in that program. many, if not most of those acres are really not productive. it's not as if we're not taking a significant amount of productive land out of production. we basically have been focusing on the highly erodible areas, areas there -- areas that are not productive. we trust farmers to make the right decision for their own operations. farmers have made the decision to have taken a million acres, maybe a little more out of the program this year. we have not created additional incentives to try to encourage more sign-up. we are well below the cap in this program. frankly, we have two challenges here. we have a global security challenge -- food security challenge but we have a longer-term food security challenge in terms of climate and the impact on production internationally, long-term.
we're trying to make sure we are paying attention to both of these. i think, we will provide additional flexibility, when and if it is necessary. you have done that in the past. we will continue to look for ways to provide assistance. right now, more than a million acres coming in of the program into production, we think farmers can be trusted to make the right decisions. there was have the right to be able to leave the program whenever they so choose. sen. boozman: thank you. i understand usda plans to release a proposed role to tighten nutrition standards this fall. i guess the question is, will usda enforce those standards in schools? we have a situation where, they are fighting the inflation cost, labor cost, and also the price of these because they are in a situation where many of these are special products that are
not made as much, and not as profitable. are you confident that schools will have access to food that will meet the usda's new standards? have we done any work in looking at what that is going to do towards increasing costs and availability? sec. vilsack: it is not a full application of the new fission standards. it is a bridge to a longer-term recommitment to the health standards. at the time we propose this, we were hopeful. i remain and continue to be hopeful that congress finds a way to provide the resources to schools with universal free meals for another year. with any authority we have that will expire at the end of june of this year. in the meantime, that doesn't happen. we have in the past continue to look for ways to provide assistance to schools.
we did a billion dollars of additional financial assistance to schools. we provided additional resources to low pharma regional food purchases, which we strongly support in an effort to help schools banish in this difficult time. we're going to make things -- manage in these difficult times. sen. boozman: we're not going to tighten standards? sec. vilsack: there is an increase but it is not a full throated increase in terms of the whole-grain standard. the sodium standard stays where it is. this is a gradual effort to try to alternately over the net couple of years get back to where we were prior to the pandemic. sen. boozman: thank you. sen. stabenow: thank you. i also wanted to echo how critical it is that we move forward to help our schools. the summer programs and
additional cost that they are experience. we continue discussions on that but it is critically important i understand that according to your department, up to a third of the schools are not able to do anything and may not be able to provide school meals this school year which is not acceptable. so, let me turn to senator bennett. >> thank you, madam chair. let me echo what you just said about schools. i want to think senator boozman about the work we have done with school nutrition and lunches, it is so important. thank you for raising that. thank you for being here. thank you for coming to colorado for the joint secretary wildfire season briefing we had last month. you learned there and we all learned that the west is facing the worst drought in 1200 years. based on what we learned at the
briefing, it is likely this trend will continue in colorado. it could see an extremely active wild fire season. we had the three worst wildfires in our state's history last year -- two years ago, last year we had the terrible marshall fire, the day before new year's eve. people were literally getting ready for new year's in the middle of covid. more than a thousand families in boulder county were burned out of their homes as a result of fire. this year already is the first year, the year that we've had the shortest season without significant fire. every single day mr. secretary i get a briefing from my staff about a fire, someplace that is starting in colorado. my state is still facing a funding shortfall. almost $150 million to recover from the mega fires that swept through colorado in 2020. i wonder if you can provide the
committee an update, when you expect usda to release additional resources so colorado can in -- implement the recovery work before another severe wildfire season begins. sec. vilsack: we announced the availability of a little bit over a billion dollars focused on recovery efforts. the state of colorado was allocated $79 million of that resource. we are going to continue to look for ways to provide help in addition to those resources, we -- there will also be resources of reform station that will be available. there will be an effort to accelerate our hazardous fuel, reduction efforts, there will be an effort to support community, religion see -- resiliency. what the resources that we now have, we are going to accelerate that as quickly as we can. >> i really want to thank you for your broad commitment on this issue mr. secretary.
this is poorly understood by politicians in the east. we are in a crisis. this is -- this is where our watersheds are. every single farmer and rancher in colorado, who is downstream from these rivers that tarted in colorado -- started in colorado are depending on us to figure out how to deal with the ravages of climate change and the complete lack of investments the federal government has historically made. i want to thank you for the $5 billion in the infrastructure package that will allow us to do some important work on land here. it's not enough. as you said, mr. secretary, waiting to just fight fires is the most cost ineffective way to deal with this. $50,000 in acres versus $15,000
in acres. i wanted to shift to 100 thing -- one other thing. producers and farmworkers had a meeting to discuss at labor issues. we talked about the urgencies of addressing farm labor needs and providing a pathway for those workers to have largely sustained this country's food supply throughout the pandemic, with both inflation, the crisis in ukraine, i am extremely worried that the program is going to be unworkable for our farmers and other employers. we should be working to fix the issue, so the agriculture industry can have certainty with their labor. i want to say how grateful i am to senator crapo for hanging in there. it's not easy for him to do it. if there are others that want to join the effort, we would certainly love to have you. we have made changes to the house version of the bill. we would like to get it over the finish line.
i wonder if you could talk about what you are seeing and hearing from employers around the country on the need for h2 way reform -- h2a reform and what we stand to lose if we continue to perpetuate the system we have. sec. vilsack: it's my view that it is a crisis that could result in a number of small it midsize farming operations that are not able to sustain activities,, particularly in the dairy industry. there is a need for stability and a need for a fix. there is a need for courage, political courage to pass immigration reform. it is a bill that both the industry and the labor has agreed upon, we should make it relatively simple to be for it. it is -- people are puzzled as to why this has not passed. when i travel and talk to farmers, they go, we need to do
something about labor, why can't they get 60 votes in the senate? i don't have an answer for that. >> any of you, anybody who would like to try to be part of getting this over the finish line here, in helping partner with me and my crapo we would deeply appreciate it -- mike crapo we would appreciate it. sen. stabenow: this is the moment where we have that opportunity than ever before. frankly i would call and everyone, the agriculture industry, to lean in, that they are concerned about on other issues, if everyone leaned in, like they do on tax policy, we could get this done. >> i know my time is over but, the secretary is actually right. this is something the growers and that laborers have come together on. sen. stabenow: if people want to do this, if the agriculture community wants to do this, we will do it.
we see their power when they really want to get something done. i am doing a call to everybody who was in earshot, that this is the moment to get it done. >> thank you, madam chair. mr. secretary good to see you. the first thing i want to bring up, all of these senators on the committee and the house members too on a bipartisan basis have sent you a letter in regard to the end the end date on crop insurance, because of excess moisture, minnesota and other states, our farmers are butting up against that and the date whereby if they do not have their crops in the ground, then they suffered discounts on crop insurance. because they become concerned about the discount.
on the time of food inflation we want as many as possible planting crops. the proposal to you is through ccc or one of our programs to offer to cover some of that discount so they will actually go ahead and try to get those crops in the ground even though they are going past that top insurance and date. -- end date. it would save the usda money and government money from the standpoint if you're not paying out more preventive plant you are paying out less. by covering that discount. at the same time, you get more crops in the ground to help with food inflation. that is a proposal. but it is something he would need to move on pretty quick if you're going to do something to help. obviously, they are getting those crops in the ground. sec. vilsack: senator is this a letter that was sent yesterday? i have not had a chance to review it. i'm happy to talk to our team about it. part of the challenge we face whenever we get into this particular area is making sure
we do not compromise the relationship between the insurer's and the producers, in terms of the overall crop insurance program that we do not create a circumstance where the risk is difficult for the crop insurance folks to calculate. but i'm happy to take a look at what you all have written. as we have exhibited in the past where more than happy to provide help where it makes sense. >> we appreciate that. i talked to members of your staff about it. that is why we pitched it in the format you have so you're not dealing with the insurance contracts and you do not run into any of those issues. that is specifically why we structured it the way we have. i appreciate your help in -- and support on the disaster assistance. you have called it erp emergency relief program. also the emergency livestock relief program, phase one is out.
just a brief recap of how that is going, and when you anticipate getting to phase two. sec. vilsack: on the crop side, there are roughly over 300,000 applications that have gone out and are going out this week. all 300,000 will be in the hands of farmers of this writing. prefilled applications, so all you they have to do is check a few boxes and sign it. there been a number of farmers that have come into the office and received their checks. i believe it is a matter of days, once you basically file your application, you receive the resources. so, that is the first phase. we would expect the second phase sometime this summer after we have gotten a better understanding and precisely who was not covered by crop insurance, by the livestock forage program so we would be in position to be able to define the universe of that second crunch. we wanted to get resources as
quickly as possible and we have been able to come push that. >> i appreciate your work on that and on the emergency livestock relief program which we are working with you on as well. my question relates to livestock indemnity programs. you and i talked about, where they suffer mortality due to these blizzards, is really in the smaller cabs for the most part. 250 pounds or less. we worked with our director out in north dakota, who is doing a fine job. one of the ideas we talked about was combining those two small -- one of those ideas we talked about was combining those two small ideas. the 250 pounds or less does not work. it does not compensate the rancher for what they lost. if you combine the two bottom of the four tears, deeper -- it probably would work. it's not a very good idea so i want to pose a t was well. sec. vilsack: as you know there
were changes in 2020 to create a new category. we are committed to taking a look at realigning the categories if it makes sense. happy to do that. i would say, as a general proposition, the questions you're asking raise my opportunity to say, when you're looking at farm bill, this notion of disaster assistance in helping farmers through difficult times because of climate related circumstances, there has got to be a real thought behind this in terms of flexibility, the capacity to adjust, conditions. we are facing a much different set of circumstances that we have in the past relative to disaster. your questions basically underscore that. >> we have worked in that way to try to develop these programs what we do with some of the livestock programs with the idea that we will go into the farm bill and address them as part of the farm bill. sec. vilsack: it's important to
understand the regional differences and the commodity differences. >> absolutely. thank you. sen. stabenow: thank you very much. i believe we have the senator with us virtually. >> thank you, madam chairwoman. the recent mass shooting in the grocery shooting -- store affected her access to nutritious food. the incident has exacerbated the food desert that exists there. buffalo is not the exception. more of the rule. throughout many counties and cities across my state, there are food deserts. this is an issue that plays in the entire country not just new york. sec. vilsack what is the usc -- usda doing to support communities situated food deserts and what are these resources currently available for communities living in food deserts? sec. vilsack: we are administrating the healthy food
financing initiative which is providing resources to communities to address the issue of food deserts. i intend to give a fairly significant speech next week at georgetown, laying out additional support for local and regional food assistance the healthy food a financial initiative will be announced in that speech. we have resources under the american rescue plan that we are going to dedicate to provide assistance. one of the potential grants is actually in the area in buffalo you mentioned. >> thank you. the biden administration's focus on creating economic opportunities in rural america has been positive. usda's world development mission is focused on helping improve the economy, and quality of life, and rural america will be engaged in this effort. my concern is whether the usda's efforts have the infrastructure to meet the increased workload
to provide a resources to rural communities. what can we do to help improve outreach to our rural communities? sec. vilsack: i really appreciate that question. the answer is we do not have adequate staff. it's one of the reason we have requested in the president's budget, additional resources the higher roughly 450 additional people in the rural development area. there's tremendous demand just to give you a sense of this, our business and industry loan program is out of money. there's so much activity and so much opportunity that is being created in rural places that those resources have been utilized and we still have several more months left in the fiscal year. we are going to transfer of resources to make sure we meet the demand. it is an issue. we hope as congress passes the budget that they pay attention to this issue of arsenal. -- personnel. >> with the cost of food increasing, food cafeterias will be stretched to provide
affordable nutritious meals, the pandemic relief funding forcible rape bursa program -- reimburse of -- reimburse the programs will compound that. how can we ensure the ust's national school program will provide adequate funding for our students to receive nutritious meals for the school year? sec. vilsack: continue to have hope and faith in congress to see the wisdom of continuing universal free meal programs for another year. if that does not happen, we will take a look at what we have done in the past which is provide additional resources, which obviously are not as significant and effective as the universal free meal. you are going to see 40% reduction in school budgets as a result of the ending of the pandemic assistance efforts. that is the reason why we have asked for an additional year. >> i will support that effort. when you came back to usda there were three organic rule making
pending. the origin of livestock will which was passed recently, the organic livestock poultry standard, as a proposed rule and the strengthening organic enforcement role. this important rule is the most significant revision to organic standard since the publication of the original organic rule in 2021 -- 2001. it will give the national organic program some more enforcement tools and responsibilities to continue to strengthen the integrity of the organic label of the organic supply chain. the 2018 laid out parameters for this rulemaking and art rulemaking to be completed by december 2019. commentary on the rule in october 2020. what is the update on this final rule, and will it be prioritized? sec. vilsack: we expect all three of those rules will be out by the end of the year. >> thank you.
thank you madam chairwoman. sen. stabenow: thank you, very much. >> thank you, madam chairwoman. thank you sec. vilsack for being with us today. it's always good to see you. it has been a while since you've have been in front of the committee. there's been so much happening across the front of agriculture and you've heard a number of those issues coming from my colleagues. right now, you know our farmers are hurting. there are multifaceted crisis happening across the nation and community. there is a tidal wave of supply chain issues, preventing our farmers from evening adding the parts they need during the spring planting season. farmers are paying more for fertilizer and other inputs. they are really worried about the availability of the next year as well. with a sharp spike in a number of these input prices, we have
the rise of inflation, the food that is actually grown as costing iowa consumers significantly more. we have seen an 11% increase in food cost january of 2021. at the same time, if we compare and contrast this, the administration has been pushing a pretty radical goal to conserve 30% of u.s. land and water by 2030. in the scope of this 30 by 30 initiative is expensive. we have tried to do a dive into it. but it is littered with a lot of different buzzwords, but has very little when it comes to actual details of how this will be accomplished. one of the things we look for was an actual definition for conservation or what lands would be included. if we could dive into a few of those issues.
i have this issue raised in iowa and at one of my town halls. he had a concern about the 30 by 30 initiative. his concern was that it would be used as a method to undermine private property rights and lockup more land. there are also concerns within the recreational fishing and hunting communities, that it will be used as a means to arbitrarily restrict land access for those types of activities. can you commit here today that the 30 by 30 initiative will not be used to undermine private property rights or to lock up land used for recreational fishing and hunting? sec. vilsack: senator i would be happy to commit to the fact that property -- private property rights will be respected in connection to activities related to conservation. it is conservation oriented, former lead. it is utilizing the conservation programs that you and i have been supportive of, during our
public careers. that is what this is. we are going to continue to look for ways to provide assistance and help to expand the ability of farmers and ranchers to utilize conservation tools. >> will we get additional details on how this will be accomplished? we have not been able to locate specifics on the initiative. sec. vilsack: the details you are going to get is the development of an atlas. it is going to keep track of the activities of farmers, rangers and producers relative to conservation. we recently were out in wyoming announcing a core door initiative to migratory corridor, that is going to be protected in the state of wyoming, a number of angler groups, conservation groups to great -- to createa -- to create a corridor, creating an opportunity for assistance. it is that type of program that i think is collaborative.
it is former lead, rancher lead -- farmer and rancher lead. it is voluntary and by all means going to respect private property rights. >> will they also maintain the rights of those hunters and fishers to engage in those types of recreational activities? sec. vilsack: part of the reason we are doing this is to expand opportunities, for hunting and fishing because we understand the important role that plays in rural economies. >> i appreciate that. iowa farmers are really working hard right now to raise the crops and livestock that are feeding our nation and the world and they are bidding -- being hit hard by supply chain and inflation challenges. you are the cochair of the president supply chain disruption task force. what action has the task force taken to help lower prices and ensure supply today of those
necessary inputs were farmers during this growing season and for next year? sec. vilsack: we have been working in terms of our works to increase hours of operation. we are providing opportunities for pop up facilities that take some of the pressure and congestion off of the ports, department is working on expanding friendships to put folks behind the wheel of trucks that are necessary. we have worked with the service of transportation board to encourage our real system to -- rail system to make the investments necessary to have a resilient system. we have provided some utilization. there are ways in which we are assisting folks, during a tough time, that gets into the program, snap program, things of that nature. it's a combination of all of this. we are going to continue to work hard to find ways to bring costs down. >> i appreciate it mr.
secretary. hopefully, with the supply chain disruption task force, we can see more information, broadcast widely so our citizens know exactly how the ministration is working with these problems. thank you very much. sen. stabenow: thank you. >> thank you very much. madam chair. thank you mr. secretary for being here today. mr. secretary, alabama's hard-working farmers and producers face uphill battles and -- as they work to feed our great nation, constant roadblocks in government overreach are creating challenging environments for my constituents. our producers face skyrocketing costs for fuel, seed, fertilizer complied with supply chain disruptions. since president biden took office in 2021, inflation has
cost the prices to increase over 10% in alabama. in april alabama's were paying for $70 every month. it is more expensive for everyone to feed their families, how are their homes, this is not sustainable -- power their homes, this is not sustainable. five dollars 36 -- thermal most a dollar 50 more than this time last year. sec. a call on you to help relieve the regulatory inflationaray -- inflationary burdens on our farmer so they can do what they do best feed the world. as we seek to begin, it seems the biden administration is focused on two areas of the comprehensive package. nutrition and conservation. all these are -- while these are important so are the traditional farm programs like crop insurance, farm commodity programs that help our producers safely manage risks.
we need to acknowledge and thank our farmers and foresters who have worked hard for generations to continue to work hard to voluntarily implement practices of sustainability and conservation on their land, as they see fit. they the first conservationist and best stewards of their lands knowing it must be reserved for generations to come. -- preserved for generations to come. changes within the administration to bring newly written regulations surrounding waters, all i know the department of agriculture does not have direct role, compared to the epa, your department clearly has direct engagements with landowners and our nations natural resources. the supreme court plants to make a ruling surrounding it later this year. do you commit to working with others and the biden administration and art nations farmers to uphold -- and our
nations farmers to implement a final decision from the super in court timely efficient fashion -- supreme court in a timely, efficient fashion? sec. vilsack: we have a close relationship with the epa on this issue, wanting to make sure that epa implements rules and regulations of any kind, including the waters of the u.s. that it does with farmer input. we have encouraged the administrator, we believe he has been very true, he is sitting down and listening. he is making himself and his team available for farmer input. our second responsibility is to take a look, as rules and regulations are limited, how can usda provide assistance to enable farmers and ranchers to implement whatever the rule may be in an efficient way for the operation. we will be committed to doing that. >> between the publication of 2012 and 2017, senses of agricultural reports 67,000
farms ceased operations. in over 14 million acres of land went out of farming. what is your department doing to help protect and restore our nations farmland and farmers? sec. vilsack: a couple of things. first and foremost were tried to figure out ways in which we can expand on what i refer to as the extraction of economy. farmers have two ways to make money. they can sell their crops or they can feed their crops to livestock and sell their product to livestock. they need more revenue streams and that is one of the reasons why agricultural product is important. also, converting agricultural waste into more bio-based products, another revenue stream. increasing the revenue streams is one. the 2nd avenue is making sure farmers have aware of the programs available to them. particularly to underserved
farmers, because they are the ones who are most struggling. often times they are either not aware or unable to go through the process of applying for the various tools and programs we have to help them. with this technical assistance grants where making to a number of organizations, we are more assistance and health, so folks can get access to the programs. the final thing i would say is we are looking for ways to help beginning farmers and ranchers get started and focusing on a variety of folks including veterans. a number of things we are doing. >> last quick question. are you familiar with the equipped proposal, i'm having -- my farmers are asking me, why would we plant these three grains when we have cover crops, we need more weeds and things we can sell. sec. vilsack: we have indicated,
as part of this effort to expand production through our conservation agreements, that we would be treated as a cover crop i -- we just recently announced that. >> thank you, thank you madam chair. sen. stabenow: next is senator schmidt and senator grassley. >> welcome to the committee, sec. vilsack. it's great to see you again. i want to thank you to your visits to minnesota. i understand you are at the campus to give a commencement speech recently. we appreciated you visiting last august to talk about the droughts we were experiencing and also the visit to the rural hospital you and i made together. you know minnesota you know minnesota well. minnesota is blessed because we have such a diverse agricultural economy in really always.
particularly, we have smalley, indigenous, and black farmers that play an important role in minnesota's agricultural sector. during your confirmation hearing, i asked what you thought the usda could do internally and externally to break down barriers facing farmers and business owners of color. i have asked this question of pretty much every nominee that has come before the committee. the need is to address the systemic and historic challenges the department has faced. i know you understand this. you and i have talked about it frequently. i wonder if you could give us a sense of how you have made equity and fairness a priority at usda and give us some examples of the work you have been doing. sec. vilsack: thank you, senator. we have asked each of the missionaries to establish a review of their programs with the use of the equity lens in everything they do and to put together a strategic plan to
incorporate equity in all decision-making. those plans have been consolidated into a single department wide plan. over .500 recommendations are in the process of being implemented. each missionary is going to have a chief diversity officer that will also be responsible for overseeing that operation and reporting to us results. but that is not enough, to do an internal review. we also have to have an external review. that is being conducted by the equity commission that formed as a result of the american rescue plan. we have individuals who are serious thinkers taking a look at the systemic nature of our programs. we anticipate the beginnings of a set of recommendations on both the farm service programs and rural development programs during the course of this calendar year. we will certainly look for ways to implement the equity commission recommendations to remove system and barriers. the third thing i would say is the reality is that many of the underserved populations simply
either do not know about the usda programs or are unable to access the detailed information necessary to apply for some of these programs or do not trust the usda. in an effort to try to build a bridge and better understanding and connection to our programs and the folks who need the programs the most, we are in the process of using american rescue plan resources to provide grants to organizations that have a trusting relationship with historically underserved producers and creating an opportunity for those entities to help those individuals apply for and receive the benefits of programs. we are excited about that opportunity. nrcs has established another $50 million initiative. 108 organizations are contracting, including among the population in minnesota, in an effort to make sure we are getting the technical information and assistance out to everyone who needs the program.
that is a representative sampling. i could go on for a long time on this but i don't want to use up all your time. >> i appreciate you putting into practice your pledge to make this a priority. i am glad to hear about what sounds and navigator strategy for connecting underserved communities to usda programs, including i hope language translation services which can be helpful for a lot of mung farmers and other farmers. it sounds like we are working on that. i appreciate that. many of us on this committee who have worked a lot on issues of market concentration, i suspect senator grassley might bring this up next, i'm happy to be working with senator grassley and senator fischer on the work they are doing around market concentration and bringing more transparency there. a huge issue in minnesota where farmers are making pennies on the dollar while the big
processes are making a lot of money and everybody is paying more at the grocery store. could you quickly address the opportunity for the usda to do better and more research on the impacts of march at -- market concentration? the food defense institute is doing great work to understand how the lack of competition in the packing sector is directly impacting producers. i wonder if you could talk briefly about what more the usda could be doing on research. sec. vilsack: part of what we announced as part of our package to provide assistance and help to expand processing capacity today is a study required by the president's competition order that speaks to this issue. secondly, our office of chief economists is engaged and involved in taking a look at the market and how concentration can impact positively or negatively
capacity and income. the fact that we had 263 applications for $150 million, almost $900 million in requests, suggests there is a real demand and need. i'm excited about the opportunity for us to use the resources available under the american rescue plan to begin creating more capacity and more competition which we think will lead to better prices. the legislation you all are working on we look forward to when and if it is passed to implementing. >> senator grassley? senator grassley: i want to congratulate you on the announcement you made about beaking up the act. i know you are committed to the enforcement of that act. the first thing i'm going to ask you about is pretty simple, i'm going to describe the usda
consultant in regard to this. two weeks ago, the solicitor general filed a brief on whether or not the supreme court should take a case involving widely used pesticides. in iowa, we call it roundup. the big classification is geico fate -- life estate. it has been the position of the law since 1972 that it preempts state law. the solicitor general argued even against the epa authority that the law requires. were you consulted on that in any way? sec. vilsack: we were not. we continue to work with the epa in terms of crop protection
programs or products in an effort to make sure farmers and ranchers have what they need. senator grassley: i think it is clear in the law that the epa has the sole authority. i think it is going to be a problem if the supreme court would not take this case because state law is trying to go beyond what the fifra law allows. let's suppose that they would take this case and somehow say this california law is a legitimate law. is the usda doing any analysis that removing these products like roundup from the marketplace would do to u.s. grain production?
it seems to me this has a big thing to do with the productivity of our american agriculture. sec. vilsack: i am not sure i know the answer to that question. i am more than happy to go back and ask our folks that are part of the process of reviewing that. we have a lot on our plate recently with global food security concerns. that has been my focus. i would be more than happy to check with our folks and see whether or not they have done that. depending upon the outcome of the case and nature of the decision that may be forthcoming, we will take a look at it. senator grassley: i would like to put in the record that i wrote to the president on that subject. >> without objection. grassley: let me see. the next one is, because of this possibility that we are going to run short of grain worldwide,
probably not in the united states, but worldwide, and increased u.s. production would have something to do with the shortage mostly caused now because of putin's invasion of ukraine. has usda discussed opening up the conservation reserve program so farmers can plant on those acres under these conditions we have now? sec. vilsack: first of all, we announced the fact that in terms of the general sign-up, a little over one million acres that was in the program is coming out of the program. that one million acres will be available. secondly, we announced an effort to try to encourage those whose acres are coming out of the program to be able to access their fields more quickly. as you know, they cannot, based on the rules, go into the fields and take active activities prior to october 1. we are suggesting they can now voluntarily terminate without
penalty for those acres now coming out of the program so they would be in a position to do work now on that land to prepare it for a crop or think about other crops that could be grown during the winter. we have looked for ways in which we can provide help and assistance. senator grassley: my time is out. i may submit questions for answers in writing on other subjects. >> thank you very much. senator lujan? senator lujan: thank you. good to see you, sir. new mexico is currently facing the largest fire in our state's history having burned over 311,000 acres and directly impacting farmers, ranchers, families, and rural communities across the state. i want to thank you and the united states forest service for the decision this week to pause
burns for 90 days while the department reviews the process, and also for the exemption that allows ranchers to be able to access u.s. force lands -- forest lands where they have grazing permits. as you know, this was a prescribed burn. recognizing over 95%, 97% of prescribed burns do not result in this, more than 2% do, because this has destroyed lives. accessing grazing remains a top concern with a lot of families in these communities. what i am hoping is i can have your commitment that you and the department will do all in your power to ensure ranchers in new mexico have access to all available grazing and feed options, including allowing the emergency grazing of land enrolled in crp. sec. vilsack: we will be happy to work with you to make sure we are responsive to the needs of your producers.
it is a commitment i make to you and i made two governor when we met --to your governor when we met. a very difficult situation. i totally understand the concerns and stress you and the folks in new mexico are feeling right now. >> the other area i have been hearing from farmers is they are being told they are not eligible for preventive plant payments this growing season because of changes to the crop insurance program made by the trump administration. farmers and ranchers across the west and especially new mexico continue to deal with historic drought and now wildfires. i find it concerning this management tool would remain unavailable to producers who need it most. mr. secretary, has the biden administration examined the trumpet administration's change to the program? if so, why was the decision made to keep the change in place? sec. vilsack: i think you are referring to preventive
planning. we have looked at it and made changes in some areas for some commodities. i would say our review is not finished. we need to continue to look for ways in which we can create flexibility for the reasons you have addressed. yes, changes have been made. i anticipate there will be additional changes forthcoming. >> i appreciate that. i can understand the goal to phase this out. out west, we don't have water. now families are devastated because of fire. with three years of drought, the formula is kicking in, it is a kick in the face. i appreciate the work you're are doing in this space and look forward to working with you as well. the watersheds in new mexico, our water for the most part from small committees comes from watersheds in the mountains. we depend on the snowpack and do our due diligence to keep it clean and get it to families.
small, historically underserved communities in new mexico are not only continuing to combat fire but as monsoon season approaches, having too quickly pivot to examine the damage done to the watersheds. having to seek waivers to fix problems the federal government caused uncertainty related to administrative and technical assistance necessary to effectively deploy the resources when they are delivered, mr. secretary, do i have your commitment to work with me and fellow new mexicans to ensure our communities have your agency's full to provide the necessary financial, technical, and administrative support to recover from these fires? mainly that water space. sec. vilsack: you do. >> appreciate that. we direct all offices under your jurisdiction to prioritize making the appropriate determination in a thorough and timely manner that allows a to be released -- aid to be released? sec. vilsack: i think that has
already been done but i will continue to emphasize it. >> i appreciate that. the last question is around dairy cattle. because of all the challenges that have already occurred from being able to move forward from the previous administration did not want to do anything, i want to thank you for immediately taking this on. as soon you took office. now, there is a question over the formula determining when a cow -- accounts get paid. because of the reality, if you can explain to me how usda came to the decision associated with the timing of payments for cattle versus when these cows were determined to be contaminated. it is different from a healthy cow or healthy dairy cow. this is very different. explain why the cows should not be paid the rate the day the cows were deemed contaminated. sec. vilsack: appreciate the
question. as you know, we inherited a rule that would not have allowed for reimbursement for the value of the cow. what was done is basically pay for the milk that was contaminated. we continued to do that until he realized what we had to do was pay for the cow. dairies have received significant resources, in some cases millions of dollars in resources, for the milk that was contaminated. we are using the livestock indemnity program structure which provides for the way in which the evaluation is calculated. the difference between that and the livestock indemnity program is instead of 75% of value, we are awarding 100% of value. we made a decision to allow for reimbursement of cattle even before the rule was in place. we think we have taken three steps. providing compensation for the
milk, 100% of the loss, as well as covering counts -- cows that were contaminated before the rule was put in place, which we think is a fair and reasonable allocation of resources in fairness to the dairy industry in your state. >> i appreciate that. i see my time has more than expired. there are a few others i will submit into the record. thank you for what you are doing. please everyone pray for our state. we need your help on this. >> thank you very much. very serious. senator marshall. >> mr. secretary, it is great to have you here in person for the first time this congress. you mentioned in your written -- i know president biden's leadership america's building back better. i am here to fight for american agriculture for kansas farmers. as you know, farmers and ranchers are facing record inflation, fertilizer prices
quadrupled, the price of diesel has doubled. farmers cannot find pesticide inputs. they cannot find tractor parts. many farmers field these supply chain issues have been exacerbated by president biden's policies. parents cannot find baby formula. the hope for new trade deals is bleak. the epa continues to push non-science-based decisions that eliminate pesticides tools that help produce higher yields but yet increase carbon footprints. based upon your written statement, i don't know which producers you are talking to but they are not producers i have been seeing in kansas. you have been secretary of agriculture for almost 10 years on and off. we expected you to be allowed voice for farmers in the white house. i want to follow-up on senator grassley's comments about the solicitor general's statement on
pesticide labels emphasizing glyphosates were used in roughly 40% of acreage. it troubles me. i think you said you were not consulted on this issue. we expected to be proactive. did you not speak to the president of the epa about this? do they not understand how important these pesticides are to decrease the carbon footprint and increase production of land? you have been doing this for 10 years. we expected a loud voice. maybe you agree with the administration. maybe you agree with the epa. sec. vilsack: i am sorry. i am not sure what the question is, senator. >> why are you not a louder voice? why are you not being proactive? it troubles me you are not willing to speak up for american agriculture in this administration and pushback on the epa, to pushback on the white house's policies in regards to glyphosate. sec. vilsack: in fairness, let's
look at the record. you mentioned exports and trade. we have had a record export year. >> can you answer my question? are you pushing back on the glyphosate issue? sec. vilsack: i talked to the epa about crop protection and encouraged the epa to continue to follow the science. that is what american agriculture has asked me to do. >> you testified to senator grassley were not consulted. now you are saying you were being proactive. sec. vilsack: i have talked to the epa about crop protection activities and products and encouraged the epa to continue to follow the science and to listen to farmers and farmers' concerns. frankly, they have. with all due respect, i am representing farmers. we are representing farmers on e 15, record trade, climate smart agriculture, and providing resources. we are representing farmers in terms of disaster assistance. $6 billion of pandemic
assistance came out. >> thank you. i want to go on to my next question. i want to talk about fertilizers for a second. nitrogen based fertilizers are dependent upon natural gas as a substrate as well as to heat the process up. natural gas has doubled. nitrogen made fertilizers have quadrupled. one of the things we can do is decrease some of the tariffs on fertilizers coming into this country. have you spoken out as a strong voice for our culture -- agriculture about decreasing those tariffs? this administration has done an incredible job decreasing tariffs on solar panels. what are we doing to lower the tariffs on fertilizers? sec. vilsack: we have talked about that issue. we have also pushed back on export bans that have exacerbated the problem. we have been vocal about that. we have created alternative risk management tool for farmers to reduce the amount of nitrogen
fertilizer they need and be able to be compensated for the crops they may not be able to produce. we have talked about conservation programs in terms of precision agriculture. >> let me get one more question in. 3030 is a big issue back home. when we spoke to you before, your plan was more crp. now we are talking about taking crp out of the program. how do you balance the goals of this administration? what does that look forward -- look like going forward? sec. vilsack: trusting the farmers. farmers are speaking to us on their needs. we are seeing an expansion of conservation practices in the regional conservation program. >> previously, you said your plan for the 30 program was more crp. it looks like more crp is going to come out. how do you get to your goal of 3030? sec. vilsack: the 3030 goal includes conservation programs. it is not simply crp. i would also point out we are making an effort in terms of
grasslands. we are seeing increased activities of crp on grasslands. we trust farmers to make the right choice and decision for their operations. this year, they are taking roughly net one million acres out of the program and putting it into production. that is their decision. we respect that. in the meantime, we are looking for ways in which we can provide more resources from conservation programs, the climate smart initiatives. all of that is a significant amount of investment in conservation programs, all of which falls within the rubric of the voluntary farmer-led 30 by 30 effort. >> thank you, mr. secretary. i yield back. >> thank you very much. next, we have senator klobuchar virtually and then senator fischer. two votes have begun. i believe we will be able to get through all of our members wanting to ask questions before
the first vote is completed. senator klobuchar, welcome. >> thank you so much for your great work. secretary, it is so great to see you again. i wanted to reiterate what i told you in person, the fantastic work usda has done in regard to avian flu. it is finally going down. i described to the people in my state that the waterfowl are taking too long of a rate in our state, hanging out. people working with our state were fantastic. we are in a better place than we were a while ago. i want to thank you for that. i want to focus on disaster aid. i know you know about the two separate storm systems that passed through minnesota with heavy rain recently on may 11 and 12 destroying farms and grain bins and left several
rural communities without power. our executive director requested disaster designation for 62 counties. do you have a timeline for reviewing that request? i read a letter this week supporting the request and hoping you can look at it quickly. sec. vilsack: i would be happy to. we will try to get that approved as quickly as possible. >> thank you. i know senator tobin raised this with you. it is along the same lines. the storms have created significant challenges for farmers who are already behind on spring planting. in minnesota, completed planting for corn is 60%, soybeans, 32%. they are all significantly behind the five-your average.
hoping you will review the suggestions we have made and work with us to provide certainty and support to farmers during this time of delay. sec. vilsack: we will certainly look at the correspondence we received yesterday and make a decision as quickly as we can. >> thank you very much. i also want to thank you for all your work on climate change. part of what we are seeing is not just serendipity. the strange weather events are what was predicted. in the area of ag, that means everything from conservation to cover crops on. i want to thank you for that. i thought i would end by focusing on supply chain issues with ocean shipping. we have seen vulnerabilities for u.s. exporters, including our ad exporters. we have seen the price of shipping containers increase
fourfold. we passed our ocean shipping reform act of 2022 through the senate. the house has a similar version. it looks like we are going to be able to reach some agreement so our goods are taken by international shipping conglomerates and we get fair prices by the rules we will push through with the maritime commission. can you talk about the impact of shipping container disruptions on ag exports and whether you are cracking down on international -- weather cracking down on international shipping conglomerates would be helpful. sec. vilsack: i asked four major shippers to create and provide greater consistency in terms of access to containers and the ability of empty containers that leave our ports to be filled with agricultural exports. received commitments from all
four to look at doing a better job. this has been a difficult challenge for american agriculture. we have seen some improvement recently by virtue of the resources we put in play to create a pop-up site in oakland. we have also provided incentives to move empty containers, financial incentives. we recently opened up another opportunity in seattle. we are going to continue to work on this. i think the legislation going through the process is sending a strong message we are not satisfied. we are frustrated with the progress up to this point. >> thank you. can you talk about the biofuel infrastructure investments usda has made, continuing to push on some of these issues? i know you are an ally. sec. vilsack: we anticipate in the near future announcing the availability of another $100 million to expand access to pumping and distribution systems
that would allow for b 15 and 20 to be more readily available. that will continue. >> thank you very much, mr. secretary. >> thank you very much. next, we have senator kaine. -- thune. >> mr. secretary, welcome. nice to have you here. i appreciate the committee turning its focus to the challenges our farmers and ranchers and rural communities are facing, among those high inflation, market volatility, and supply chain constraints, all of which have been referenced at some level today, coming out a time when producers are working to address global food shortage concerns. in south dakota, we have producers dealing with difficult weather conditions this spring including drought, severe
drought, excess moisture, and significant storm damage. i would urge usda to provide expedited assistance to those affected producers. many of the commodity prices are high. inflation has sent expenses skyrocketing. to make matters worse, some producers might have had recent storm damage to their property. there is a deep concern about replacing these critical elements of their operations and how expensive it will be given the soaring costs we are experiencing. what is usda doing to address inflation and its effect on agriculture? what can usda do to help producers mitigate sharply increasing costs of these weather-related damage repairs? sec. vilsack: i would say our primary focus is trying to make
sure the disaster assistance programs in place funded and financed i congress are made available -- by congress are made available as quickly as possible. we redesigned the way in which the program operates so we can get resources out to farmers as quickly as possible, making it easier and simpler for them to apply for those resources. that will continue. we have not been hesitant in terms of getting pandemic assistance outcome over $6 billion of resources provided. we will continue to look for ways in which we can use programs to basically make sure we are doing everything we can to provide assistance and help. in terms of some of the challenges, the fertilizer issue, i think there's an opportunity for us to begin the process of being more self-reliant when it comes to the ingredients that go into fertilizer, which is why the $500 million will be allocated.
we think there's going to be great interest in that effort which we hope to be able to launch the summer. we think there's an opportunity to use the conservation programs effectively to advance precision agriculture that will help reduce costs. we think there is research suggesting perhaps some of our acres are over fertilized. to the extent we can give farmers that information, they can make informed decisions about their operations. there's a wide variety of things we are attempting to do. >> a lot of this programs you mentioned are programs i and others have been involved in creating. hopefully, they will work effectively in times we need them like right now. i want to get on the black hills national forest and other forests which provide recreation opportunities and contribute to local and regional economies. in the last few years, we have seen enormous wildfires across the west. those fires were devastating to local communities and have
lasting effects on water quality, wildlife, recreation, and tourism. crop management is as important now as it has ever been. it plays a critical role in maintaining forest health and reducing the threat of catastrophic fires. they have been a reliable partner in proper management. last year, we had a sawmill in the black hills closed due to the lack of timber availability. i'm concerned more closures could be imminent if the forest service does not take action to maintain the timber sale program. numerous concerns have been raised in a general technical report on the timber sale program and the agency's failure to uphold the commitment to work collaboratively with state and local officials. following the gtr, we have seen a drastic reduction in timber sales in the loss of infrastructure critical in meeting the goals outlined in
the strategy. what steps are you taking to make sure the forest service upholds its commitment to collaborate and avoid additional mill closures? sec. vilsack: and thing we have done is establish a strike team directed to black hills to make sure we are determining the appropriate volume estimates for the next three years. we also have a national team working on a timber pilot transfer program bringing in potential timber from the west for processing in south dakota. as you know, not you, folks have asked for reconsideration of the gtr report. we are in the process of completing that reconsideration. i anticipate a decision on that in june. >> you are right. we have asked for that. thank you. my time has expired. >> thank you very much. senator warnock. >> thank you very much. mr. secretary, before i start
with my questions about farmers in georgia, i want to ask a brief question about the baby formula questions facing georgia families. from usda's perspective, when will families in georgia who are searching for formula start to see more products on the shelves? sec. vilsack: our hope and belief is we are beginning the process of turning the corner. i announced today the opportunity for gerber, nestlé, and johnson to have the ability to work with state health commissioners to provide radar flexibility to substitute products. to be able to access and expand in the wic program or product. we are bringing more product in
from overseas through a series of fights currently being financed in part by usda. we had one in indianapolis over the weekend which i attended. we also have been working with encouraging the fda to continue to work with providers who have not yet been authorized to do business in this country to be able to expand the capacity for imports. all of that together with bringing the sturgis plan back online in the next couple of weeks, hopefully we should see some progress on this. hopefully over several weeks, we will see more product on the shelves. >> in the next several weeks, they will see more products? sec. vilsack: it will not solve the problems. there will still be issues. there will still be areas where there are challenges. there will still be places where people have to use social media and the networks they have created to identify where product is and make sure the product gets delivered to where it needs to be. i think we will see some
progress on this. hopefully, as the spring and summer wears on, we are in much different circumstances. the sturgis plan is important. imports are important. the ability to substitute products in the wic program are important. >> i speak with folks trying to feed their children. it cannot come soon enough. thank you for traveling with me to georgia earlier this year to hear directly from farmers left behind by the usda. those farmers spoke to us about the need for urgent debt relief which i remain committed to delivering. they also spoke of the need for usda to do more to support farmers who have faced historic discrimination and protect them from adverse actions. i appreciate that usda responded to my calls that past due debt collections and foreclosures for these farmers. many farmers who stopped making payments because congress promised relief and are now
considered delinquent. through no fault of their own. it is estimated over 24,000 borrowers have deferred payments or are currently considered economically distressed. what is the plan? what are you going to do to ensure these farmers are not forced out of their business for off of their land? sec. vilsack: currently, there is no cassidy to force them off the land. -- capacity to force them off the land. there is no ability to foreclose. number two, we continue to go through the courts process on the 12 cases pending on the american rescue plan and will continue to vigorously support and defend that action by congress. there are ways in which the definition of those who are able to get debt relief could be adjusted by congress.
we have suggested and provided technical assistance on how that might happen. >> the farmers i am hearing from in georgia who are worried about being forced off of their land, you're saying there is no need for them to worry? sec. vilsack: there is no need for them to worry at this point in time. we also are encouraging folks to look at the opportunity for loan servicing long-term depending on how this shakes out relative to the definition of those covered for debt relief, depending on our ability at usda to provide assistance. there are ways we can help farmers stay on the land. that is the goal. >> i sent a letter on december 10 raising concerns of farmers who are concerned about the lack of transparency at the usda. it took three months for me to get a response. i'm still very concerned about
the department partially outreach and engagement plan for these farmers. these farmers often hear about funding opportunities well past the application deadline. when they find the announcement is made, they feel consistently left out. your response to my letter acknowledged usda still has work to do here. i appreciate that acknowledgment . what will usda do differently to address systemic discrimination and how have you improved outreach and engagement in historically underserved farmers? sec. vilsack: the first thing we did is to take resources from the american rescue plan and invest them with community building organizations that are trusted by those producers, to be able to provide technical assistance and information about programs and the ability to work with those producers to successfully access the programs. it can be difficult and complex to get into our programs.
the reality is with technical assistance we will see more participation. that is the first thing. 20 organizations received $75 million in assistance. we recognize there are smaller organizations that deal with smaller groups of these disadvantaged and underserved producers. there is currently a minimum $25 million available under the american rescue plan for agreements with those organizations as well. nrcs has an additional $50 million they allocated to 108 organizations to expand outreach. that is the first thing. the second thing is each missionary of usda has put together an equity plan in an effort to create an equity lens for everything we do. they have come up with over .500 recommendations. each missionary will have a chief diversity officer. this is really important, madam chair. >> i realize that. absolutely. sec. vilsack: and also, the equity commission is looking at
reducing systemic barriers. we anticipate recommendations this summer. there is a lot more i could say. >> this is very important. we certainly want to follow up with that. we have four members. there is a vote open and four members have been patiently waiting. i want to make sure everybody get a chance to ask questions. obviously, this is critically important and we will follow up together. thank you very much. senator fischer and then senator booker. [indiscernible]
>> i have appreciated the more than 40 hours of technical assistance you and your staff have provided on that legislation. this bipartisan legislation is cosponsored by half of the members of this committee. our legislation is focused on two main policies, price discovery and transparency in the market. do you agree robust competitive market is essential to making sure price discovery takes place in the cattle market? some folks have expressed concern about this. can you reassure us that when implementing the bill, usda would conduct a notice and comment rulemaking at a cost/benefit analysis when setting the regional minimums as explicitly required by the legislation? sec. vilsack: we will follow whatever congress directs us to do. >> thank you. at our hearing one month ago, usda officials testified our
bill would make the cattle markets more competitive, transparent, and fair. do you agree with that statement? sec. vilsack: i do. i think it is important to increase capacity to have more competition as well. i think it's a combination of legislation and increasing capacity. >> thank you. international trade is critical for my state's economy. we exported $7.1 billion in agricultural products in 2020. i have heard continuously from nebraska's ag producers who are frustrated about the lack of a trade agenda from this administration. we have seen no push from the administration to work with congress on trade promotion authority. we have seen no push for the administration to pursue new agreements that provide market access. that is true just this week with the announced indo-pacific economic framework. we see no push to name a
qualified nominee to beat u.s. tr -- be ustr's chief ag negotiator. i have concern over mexico's policy on biotechnology which is set to ban biotech corn for human consumption as soon as january of 2024. this policy is out of step with their commitments under usmca. it will restrict nebraskans access to innovative either cultural tools and increase costs for consumers on both sides of the border, something we do not need with current out-of-control inflation. mexico is the top export destination for nebraska's corn. we are a top producer of white corn. corn chips, tortillas, and other food products. planning decisions will begin soon for the 2023 corn crop that
will be exported in 2024. cap means nebraska farmers need certainty from this important trading partner right now. secretary vilsack, how is the administration working with mexico to ensure continued market access, in particular for white corn used in food products? is the administration prepared to use all relevant policy mechanisms at its disposal, including dispute resolution, if mexico does not make any progress fulfilling its commitments under usmca? sec. vilsack: i recently had a conversation with the president of mexico about corn. i'm confident exports of corn are going to continue. we will continue to work with our trading partner. the fact is we finally got
potatoes across the border after 15 years. i think we are going to continue to focus on developing a strong relationship with the mexicans. i'm confident that will result in us having strong exports with mexico. >> thank you. i hope you will be able to use the tools at your disposal with current trade agreements in order to be stern and resolute with mexico on white corn. sec. vilsack: we have much on a reluctance to do that with our canadian friends on dairy. >> thank you. i appreciate it. >> senator booker. >> thank you. we talk a lot about the terrible history of discrimination amongst lack farmers -- black farmers. we know discrimination within programs caused black farmers to lose millions of acres and robbed them and their families of intergenerational wealth that
land represented. we know one of the main sources of usda discrimination against black farmers historically and today is discrimination in the committee system. can you talk about the actions you have taken or intend to take to root out and bring to an end discrimination in the usda county committee system? sec. vilsack: the thing i can do is make sure there is minority representation on all the county committees. i exercise that power for the first time ever to make sure in 300 counties where there was not minority or presentation that we had a minority representative. the equity commission is in the process of taking a look at all of the issues. i know the county committees is one of the areas they are looking at. i am encouraged and hopeful they will make a set of recommendations relative to the county committee structure we can utilize as a basis for going forward. in the meantime, we will make
sure that there is minority representation on every one of the county committees. i think it is important. we have asked them to look at the systemic barriers that existed and make recommendations. equity commission was a result of the american rescue plan. you directed us to put the equity mission together. respecting the serious thinkers on the committee, i'm looking forward to their recommendations. we started first with the farm service agency review because we knew that was the area of most concern. we are looking forward to the recommendations they will make. >> thank you. the recent inspector general report found in 2019 the average time for a civil rights complaint to be processed by the usda was 799 days. justice delayed is justice denied. what steps are you taking to address the issue? sec. vilsack: it has been cut in half since we took back control
of the civil rights office. i get a report on this every month. we are seeing more timely investigations, or timely reviews, and more timely decision-making at the office of civil rights. i'm very concerned about this. we have seen that cut in half. >> could your staff let us know deeper on the things you're doing? i appreciate that. we know the amazon rain forest is being burned down primarily for animal grazing and beef produced out of brazil. big companies ship that to the united states and repackage it here and sell it in our stores labeled as products of the usa. that is outrageous and a fraudulent practice that hurts consumers and ranchers in the united states. products with usa claims should only be allowed on meats for
animals raised and slaughtered in the united states. legislation have been pending asking usda to look into the issue. when do you anticipate taking action on this? sec. vilsack: we are in the process of conducting an extensive survey on this very issue. we are asking consumers across the united states two questions. what do you think this means when you see product of the u.s.? and do you place value on it? that would form the basis for us to be able to utilize the power we have to avoid misrepresentation and deception in labeling and make sure the standard for use of that label on a voluntary basis is consistent with what people's expectations are. i would expect hopefully sometime this fall we will have the results of the survey. from that, we will begin to look at how we might be able to strengthen significantly the product of the u.s. >> i appreciate you keeping in touch with my team on this as well. last question. i know the usda is working on a
new proposed rule on organic livestock and poultry standards that will clarify outdoor access requirements. organic farms with high animal welfare standards in new jersey and around the country have been waiting a long time for this rule. there being hurt by competitors with standards lower than the public expects from an organic product. in the final rule released in the obama administration, the implementation period was five years. anticipate the new rule will take effect -- i anticipate the new rule will take effect more quickly. when you expect the new rule will be released? can you confirm this will have a short rate? sec. vilsack: we want to make sure whatever we do is able to withstand legal challenge. that is going into the process. it is not finalized until it gets through the process.
our hope is it gets done sometime this summer. in terms of the time, we are looking at making sure we are structuring it in a way that is the most defensible from a legal standpoint. as i'm sitting here, i don't remember what the timeline is but i know it is a timeline we think is more defensible. >> and you will follow up with us on that as well? thank you, sir. >> thank you. senator highsmith. >> thank you, madam chairwoman, and thank you, mr. secretary being here today. i appreciate your willingness to serve and enjoyed our relationship when i was commissioner of agriculture in mississippi. i want to talk about poultry production in mississippi and processing in mississippi because it supports thousands of jobs and generates billions in economic output annually.
it consistently ranks at the top of mississippi's diverse list of agriculture commodities. number six nationwide. it is my understanding that this morning, usda announced proposed rule titled poultry growing tournament systems fairness and related concerns. i have not read all 150-something pages yet. but the industry stakeholders in mississippi have been quick to share their concerns with me over this. my question is concerning the poultry growing tournament systems concerns. is it possible what usda is proposing could push billions in additional costs on the poultry companies at a time of record inflation and skyhigh input costs which would further threaten food security and raise food costs? sec. vilsack: that is surprising
to me. what we are asking the integrators to do is to provide information to producers before they sign a contract on density, the expectations from previous tournaments, what the farmer could potentially expect in terms of return, the ability to share that information with their financial advisor. we are asking them to give information concerning the stock they are providing, the age, gender, facility where it was raised. i don't think we are talking about a significant increase in expense to integrators. what you are providing is greater transparency and more information so as farmers make the decision to incur debt to go into a contract that they have a sense they will be able to pay the debt off. we did ask a series of questions as part of this. it may very well be that what
they are reacting to is the questions we are asking as to whether the system is fair. that is why we are asking the questions. we want to get input from people. >> we are still trying to fully assess and understand these rules. it is my understanding today's rule is the first of three. sec. vilsack: that is correct. >> the concern is, could it end up costing farmers and companies and american consumers? and is usda planning to conduct a thorough economic analysis on the tournament rules pertaining to the poultry industry? sec. vilsack: we have done an analysis of this particular rule we announced today and believe the benefits far outweigh the costs. we will continue to do that because it is obviously part of the regulatory process. >> i have a moment left. i want to switch to glyphosate.
glyphosate is a widely used, proven, safe herbicide that combats weeds that threaten agricultural productivity. i remember when it came on the market in the form of roundup. the department of justice new england -- recently took a new position that could cripple the effective use of this very important product that we count on. is our farmers cannot use safe, commonsense sense, and effective products, what would happen to u.s. crop yields if we had to go back to till instead of no till? sec. vilsack: i think it would impact production. i think it would affect our ability to deal with climate. one of the strategies for dealing with climate is no till activities. this is a personal injury case they are involved with.
as i said earlier, i don't know precisely the rationale behind the solicitor general's decision. but i would say that we have been very clear with the epa in our conversations about these crop protection tools that we have to follow the science. whatever the science says, that is what we should follow. >> is it your opinion it could have an impact on domestic food prices? sec. vilsack: there are a lot of things that go into food prices. the reality is farmers unfortunate get little of the food dollar, roughly $.16 of every food dollar. i'm not sure that results in food cost increases in the same way we are seeing with some supply fame -- chain challenges but it might have an impact. >> what might be long-term impacts be on challenge to meet the global demand for food?
sec. vilsack: the challenge would be for american agriculture to innovate. we have to look for ways in which we can invest in and encourage additional research and development on a wide variety of initiatives including crop protection. we need to continue to work with our industry to make sure innovation, that we invest in innovation. >> on that note, i'm going to -- the meeting is adjourned. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2022] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]