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tv   Agriculture Secretary Testifies on Rural Economy  CSPAN  January 20, 2022 9:31pm-1:34am EST

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>> c-span's washington journal. everyday we are taking your calls live on the air on the news of the day and we will discuss policy issues that impact you. coming up friday morning, pennsylvania democratic congresswoman susan wild discusses president biden's first year in office and legislative priorities. then georgia republican congressman buddy carter talks about the biden administration's handling of the economy and covid-19. watch washington journal live at 7:00 eastern friday morning on c-span or on c-span now, our new mobile app. join the discussion with your phone calls, facebook comments, text messages, and tweets. >> the agriculture secretary was on capitol hill for a house hearing on of the rural economy. he testified on several topics, including covid-19 relief for
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farmers, supply chain issues, and trade exports to other countries. this is four hours. >> the committee meeting will come to order. i want to welcome everyone and i want to thank you for joining us today to have our hearing, which is entitled the review of the state of the rural economy with the agriculture secretary. after brief opening remarks, members will receive testimony from our witnesses today and then the hearing will be opened
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to questions. without objection, the chair may recess the committee subject to any point during this hearing. and now i just want to give my brief opening statement. at any point during this hearing. and now i just want to give my brief opening statement. i want to welcome everyone who are watching today with this hearing. and i would like to start by first of all extending a warm greeting to my dear friend, secretary vilsack. we are delighted to have you with us today. a key function of our house agriculture committee is to conduct oversight and ensure that the executive branch is implementing congressionally
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authorized programs as they are intended. one other thing. the secretary has a hard stop at 2:00 p.m. also, when we return after our work period, we will begin to take up the 2023 farm bill. secretary, with that, we're going to hear from our ranking member with any opening remarks he has. >> chairman, thank you very much. mr. secretary, good to see you. welcome to capitol hill. glad to have you here. mr. chairman, thanks for holding today's hearing. thank you, secretary vilsack, for traveling to washington, d.c. to join us. this committee is well overdo for a general audience with you. i appreciate your willingness to appear before us, to respond to questions and concerns.
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i was pleased and hopeful when president biden asked you to join his team. your experience during president obama's administration and the years in between was appreciated. like that of your predecessor, would cultivate and execute policies necessary to make rural america thrive. as i travel the country, those who produce the food, fiber and energy that keeps this country running are telling me a different story. unfortunately, i'm seeing it firsthand throughout my home state of pennsylvania. president biden has fostered an agenda rife with executive overreach and regulatory uncertainty and a far left ideology that doesn't align with the hard working men and women who enrich our nation and our world. mr. secretary, our constituents want a government that works for
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them, an advocate for this businesses, products, livelihoods. folks do not believe this administration is in their corner. farmers, ranchers, foresters are battling supply chain disruption, inflation and long-standing labor shortages. these exacerbate the challenges of production agriculture. our communities are looking for solutions. they don't need onerous federal regulatory burdens and new red tape to livestock rules and other regulatory action. that's what they and we are witnessing. our nation's ability to provide citizens and the world with the safest, most affordable and abundant food is our mandate. i know all of us in both parties realize and are motivated by this tremendous responsibility. there remains a disconnect
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between our shared mandate and what's coming out of washington. in congress, trillions in ideological new spending was contemplated. signed into law when instead we needed targeted fixes to supply chain bottlenecks. further funding is under discussion that fails to address the frail biden economy, including the massive labor shortfalls. under this administration, we see a clinton area swine inspection program rolled back despite being designed in science. we need greater certainty in supply chain resilience. resource use for agriculture is up 280%. we should be very proud of. the total farm inputs remain unchanged. our producers have spent decades showing the world that they are the answer to reducing global
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greenhouse gas emissions and they are not the problem. activists with low knowledge of production agriculture are winning the day. i hope this administration and department rethink their alliance with these coalitions. mr. secretary, i want to be your partner. makeshift responses to congressional inquiries and in many cases no response made it challenging for my colleagues and myself to maintain a meaningful dialogue with the department, policy briefings with no little to notice for members strain our partnership. there is an opportunity to work together. i believe that. we stand ready. a critical part of doing so is beginning our 2018 farm bill implementation and oversight process and working towards the next reauthorization. that's putting politics aside. that's what we tend to do here in the agriculture committee. beginning in ernest deliver a
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process of what's working, what's not for producers, rural communities and consumers. i look forward to starting that process with our members and with you, mr. secretary. in the meantime, we must stabilize our economy and supply chains, improve labor force participation, deliver regulatory action and better understand the needs of our shared constituency. that starts with this hearing. i'm appreciative of the chairman for this hearing. i thank the secretary for coming before this committee and look forward to more productive and consistent discourse. with that, mr. chairman, i yield back. >> thank you, ranking member. the chair would request that other members submit their opening statements for the record. so the secretary may begin his testimony. to ensure that there is ample time for questions. our witness today is our 32nd secretary of agriculture and a
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great ally of our nation's farmers and ranchers. secretary tom vilsack. we are pleased to welcome you back to our agriculture committee. mr. secretary, please begin when you are ready. >> mr. chairman, thank you very much. appreciate the opportunity to be here today and also to representative thompson, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee and thank the members for this opportunity. i suppose i could focus on the fact that our farm income is as good as it has been in the last eight years. we have had record exports. i would like to focus on one phrase of my testimony on page 4. i think it explains the heart of the challenge that farmers in rural america faces and has faced for a considerable period of time. i want to focus on the phrase, extraction economy. i make this reference on page 4 of my testimony in order to set
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the stage for discussion hopefully over the long haul as you begin your process of the farm bill reauthorization. our extraction economy is an economy that essentially we take things from the land, off the land, and unfortunately, rather than converting them and value adding them in and close to the rural areas where the natural resource is, they are transported to long distances where they are value added in some other location where opportunities and jobs are created elsewhere. it's important for us as we look forward to try to develop what is called a circular economy in which the wealth is created and stays in rural areas. let me give you a couple examples how that could happen. there has been a focus on local and regional food systems. we learned during the pandemic that our system was not as resilient as we hoped it would be. one of the ways of making it more resilient is to create local and regional opportunities. that's one of the reasons why we are focused on expanding
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processing capacity. something i hear all the time when i travel around the country. the need for our cattle producers, livestock producers to have choice and opportunity for a local processing facility that creates local jobs that allows that revenue and wealth that's created from processing to stay in the community. another example is the bio-based manufacturing. biofuels is one example. there are ways in which we can convert waste products to include chemicals, materials, fabrics and fibers, creating opportunity for farmers and additional income sources as well as rural jobs. climate change creates an opportunity for us as we look at ways in which rural lands can be used to sequester carbon, embrace carbon smart agricultural practices, it opens up a new vista of opportunity for farmers to be paid for the carbon sequestering they are
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doing and will do. these are examples of a circular opportunity. the opportunity is created, jobs are created in rural areas. we are focussed on trying to insert and encourage that type of circular economy to be more prevalent in rural areas across the united states. mr. chairman, i know there are a variety of questions that will be posed today. i hope as this committee begins its serious work of the farm bill that you will take some time to work with us to take a look at how we might be able to do a better job of maintaining and creating wealth in rural communities and making sure that historically underserved communities get a fair amount of attention. we are committed to working with you in partnership to use the resources that are available from congress in a way that helps to create those kinds of opportunities. with that, i will yield back the balance of my time and look forward to the questions that you all have.
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>> thank you, mr. secretary. for your important testimony. at this time, members will be recognized for questions in order of seniority. alternating between majority and minority members. you will be recognized for five minutes in order to allow us to get to as many questions as possible. i will certainly hold each member to that strict five minutes, because i want to be able to make sure every member has a chance to ask the secretary questions. please keep your microphones muted until you are recognized in order to minimize any background noise. now i recognize myself for my questions. mr. secretary, as you may know,
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our cotton industry is suffering in a very particular area, with our cotton merchandisers. they have had great impact and affect from our covid-19 crisis. as you may recall, i wrote you a letter and asked for your help what we could do to help our cotton merchandisers, because, mr. secretary, they are very critical to the risk management and liquidity for our cotton farmers. so, mr. secretary, i want to help them. i know you do, too. what can we do? can we use some of your authority with the covid-19 funds to be able to get help to them? what can we do to help our cotton merchandisers? >> mr. chairman, we have been in
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consultation with a number of representatives of the cotton industry and cotton and textile users industry to determine how best to help. the fsa is drafting a notice of funds availability that we hope to make available sometime in the early spring that would provide some additional resources. we're trying to structure this in a way based on our conversations with the industry to be able to provide some assistance and help to the industry. this is one of many programs that we have inserted and adopted as a result of the resources made available under the american rescue plan and a variety of assistance programs designed to make sure we have a significant amount of effort at usda to provide assistance and help to those who were not adequately helped in the previous administration with these resources. >> thank you for that. now i would like to recognize
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the ranking member for his questions. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. secretary, thanks again. appreciate you being here. mr. secretary, as you know -- i know this is an issue important to you, dairy has long been a priority of mine. it is also our largest commodity in pennsylvania. as i talk with dairy farmers across this country, i know it's important throughout our dairy states. i'm glad that stakeholders are having serious discussions about the potential reforms to the federal milk marketing order system. i think the system has long needed some improvements for dairy farmers. i don't think we can keep going what we have been doing and expect different results. when you look at the attrition, loss of dairy farms. the covid-19 pandemic put a spotlight on some of the
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deficiencies. conversations are going on within the industry to reach consensus, which i think is important. can you comment on -- commit your department will work with us and the dairy sector to help this process along? >> representative, thanks very much for the question. certainly, i hear as you have heard concerns about the marketing order. i think it's important and necessary for dairy industry to develop a consensus opinion. as you travel around the country and as i do, what you hear in pennsylvania may be different than what you hear in vermont, different than idaho, different in new mexico and certainly different from whatu you hear i california in terms of the needs. i think the industry is serious about this effort. we will work collaboratively with the industry to try to improve. that's one of the reasons why we announced the supplemental dairy margin assistance, dairy payment through the pandemic market voluntary assistance program and why we created the dairy
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donation program. we are trying to use existing tools to provide help. >> i think there is -- the consensus is out there maybe not in exactly what to do but there's a need for change. that's helpful to be able to bring people together. i look forward to working with you in that arena. mr. secretary, in march of 2021 you made reference in a press release to gaps and disparities concerning covid relief. in statements with the press since then, you have implied that funding in many program areas has been disproportionate or skewed upon by race. that same phrase, gaps and disparities was in your written testimony today. following your press statement last year, my staff reached out to usda numerous times requesting to see the data to support that comment. after no response, i wrote to you personally asking for a response to these inquiries.
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this week, nine months after first engaging on this office, my office received a letter. the response i received was merely a regurgitation of pre-existing press releases that i had in hand and not the data i sought, which is disappointing that the time line of the response is equally disappointing. mr. secretary, i know that we both agree that this plague has been devastating to all stakeholders and communities. this committee has a responsibility to meet the needs of all producers that require us to work together. that does require us to work together. i look forward to us doing better. i believe this highlights a need for increased oversight, mr. chairman from this committee, not only on the farm bill implementation but also the covid relief. i hope to see a greater responsiveness from our usda partners. i think we are part of a great farm team. when we work together, every american family benefits.
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and the rural economy benefits. i'm hopeful that we can work in a more responsive and a better way going forward. >> congressman, i think what i said and what intended was to focus on the fact that the existing assistance under the trump administration was focused in a number of geographic areas and commodities. i think a recent study suggested that. that's one of the reasons why we use the resources under the c.a.r.e.s. act and pandemic assistance resources to spread out and to provide help and assistance to those who hadn't received as much help. dairy was one area. biofuels industry is another area. the spot market for hogs. folks selling hogs on the cash market, that's another area. the pandemic needs of specialty crops, that's another area. we made an effort to try to make
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sure that we were providing assistance and help in a comprehensive way as opposed to focusing in on specific geographic or commodity specific area. >> i think that data would helpful -- >> the gentleman's time expired. the gentleman from california, mr. costa, who is also the chair of the subcommittee on livestock and foreign agriculture is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman, for bringing us together and the support and opportunity to have a conversation with our secretary of agriculture. it's good to see you back, mr. secretary. we can spend the whole day talking about the rural economy and the challenges we face across the country regionally and different impacts this pandemic has had in terms of closing restaurants and schools and impacting our food supply chain in ways we could never
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imagine. obviously, we are still working on that effort with our ports from los angeles to long beach. i would like to set the table for the farm bill next year. i know the chairman and all of us are interested in doing. we touched upon the effort of the challenges regionally of milk production. by the way, i want to commend you and the ambassador on that resolution in canada on the decision that was made. that's helpful, i believe, to ensure we have a level playing field with our neighbors to the north. that limitation on the program -- the volatility program you implemented to reimburse dairy farmers for their losses impacts producers differently around the country. the limitation that 5 million pound for producer doesn't
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reflect that one size fits all. we are trying to figure out in areas of the country where it doesn't, how we might provide an effort to cover the losses that they sustained during that time. mr. secretary, do you care to comment? >> the reason why we established that limitation was the fact that during the course of the previous administration, the way in which covid relief was provided and helped as it relates to the food box program results in a distortion in the market that created a situation where there was a significant difference between class 1 and class 3. many small producers were hurt. this was designed to provide assistance and help to the small producers that were hurt because of that circumstance. happy to work -- we did work and are working on other ways to help the dairy industry across the board and be happy to work with you on any ideas or thoughts you have to provide assistance and help to the dairy
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industry. >> we will follow up on that. the trade issues you and i discussed before are critical to american agriculture as well as california agriculture, the number one state in the nation. 44% of california's agricultural production is exported. as we look toward a level playing field not only with our consumers, we export to asia, but also to new york as well. i'm wondering what kind of oversight the department intends to follow with regards to the new agreement we have on issues, not the least of which is
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biotech approvals for corn, the ability for us to continue to sell corn for feed into mexico. received assurances from the mexican secretary that that will continue to take place. there is ongoing conversations. i have spoken to the secretary in mexico at least six times, seven times since i took office. i have had a number of responses and communications with my canadian counterpart as well. there's a constant effort to ensure enforcement. this is really designed to provide -- to create a sense of trust about trade agreements, not just in mexico and canada but also in china. we obviously have some unfinished business with reference to phase one. we continue to press china to increase purchases and address many of the important -- >> do you believe china kept their commitment under the previous -- >> no. they are $13 billion short on
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purchases. there are seven key areas where they have yet to perform. biotech approvals, ddg sales, tariffs on ethanol, other -- >> we will follow up on that. my time is running out. i want to commend your efforts. you and i talked about it or forestry and the fires and our ability to manage our forests in a way that we have been neglecting. we want to support your efforts there. there's a lot to be done. this ten-year program that you unveiled earlier this week is something we want to work with you on. >> gentleman's time has expired. the gentleman from georgia, mr. austin scott, is recognized now for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. secretary vilsack, i have talked to some of my chemical distributors about the crop protection products. they tell me the raw materials are in the country but the labor shortage is what is creating the backup and the challenges with actually getting the product to
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the warehouses for the farms. is that consistent with what you are hearing from the people at the usda? >> we are certainly concerned about the lack of truck drivers, which is why we are working with the department of labor and encouraged by their efforts to create an apprenticeship program and speed up the process to get people behind the wheel to work with states to issue cdl licenses as quickly as possible. it is an area we are concerned about. >> i think they are talking about shortages in labor at the manufacturing as well as the trucking shortages and other things. it does concern me that in many cases i feel like people don't recognize how important the timeliness is with regard to the application of crop protection and crop promotion fertilizer products to get the yields our farmers depend on and we depend on for our food supply in this
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country. i hope you and usda will stay on the department of transportation making sure that they understand and the department of labor in making sure they understand that when we have to have these crop protection products in the field, you know, putting it on two or three weeks late doesn't work. you were given an additional $10 billion this past fall for disaster assistance for extreme weather in 2020 and 2021. can you give us an update or any details on where the distribution of those funds stands? >> yes. let's talk about the $750 million that was allocated for the livestock industry. we are going to look at a process by which we can use existing data from the livestock program to facilitate payments. the hope is those payments will be made to livestock producers sometime this spring. the expectation is there may be
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additional need for resources made available with a more detailed application. we are trying to simplify the process so we can get resources to these farmers as quickly as possible. on the grain side, we hope to use data and rma crop data to speed up the process of resources to those producers and then a second for losses in areas that weren't covered, folks who didn't have coverage or who didn't have crop insurance coverage. the goal is to get payments out this spring. >> this spring. hopefully, by the end of april then? >> april, may, sometime in that time frame. the key here, representative, is to make sure we get it done as quickly as possible, which is consider we are simplifying the process and trying to use existing data to speed up the process. >> okay. one last question. the commodity credit
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corporation, i know there's a tremendous amount of discussion about climate smart agriculture. the commodity credit corporation, it's my understanding that a billion dollars in ccc funds are being used for climate support agriculture and forestry. how does this fit under the pretty specific purposes of the ccc, what specific authority in the charter act will be used? can you give us more details on this initiative? >> sure. as you well know, it's designed to provide for the promotion of commodities. what we hear and see from the industry is -- the food industry is the need for climate smart commodities for sustainably produced commodities in which they can ensure the consumers that what they are purchasing is not harmful for the environment. we want to help producers create those climate smart commodities.
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it falls under -- it's section 4 or section 5 of the ccc. we are very confident that we have the capacity and ability to use this without jeopardizing any of the other needs or reasons for the ccc. this will give -- farm groups and food groups have proposed and suggested this in the food and farm alliance document on climate smart agriculture, suggesting the need for demonstration and pilot projects funded through the ccc. we are following the prescription of groups like the american farm bureau and their advocacy for this. we feel very confident we have the legal grounds based on the fact that we will be promoting climate smart commodities. >> mr. chairman, my time has expired. >> thank you. the gentleman from massachusetts, mr. mcgovern, who is also the chair of a house committee on rules, is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you for your leadership. i want to thank secretary
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vilsack for his service and for his team at usda. i have found them always to be very responsive. i appreciate that. i want to start off by saying that i'm currently working with congressman grahalva to organize a roundtable on tribal farming and indigenous food systems. while we must do more to honor and learn from the experiences of indigenous people, i want to thank you, mr. secretary, and your team at usda for all the work you have done so far in this space. as i have pushed for a white house conference on food, nutrition, health and hunger, i have had the opportunity to see a wide range of places that are working to ensure access to culturally appropriate foods for people. for example, i was in new york city recently at a place called the met council that focuses on providing access to kosher foods
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for those who would otherwise be forced to choose between their faith and having food on the table. many of the programs that i saw when i visited san francisco specialize in providing culturally appropriate foods for asian and latin x communities. in phoenix, arizona, the oldest food bank in america, they have made it a mission to provide culturally appropriate native foods for elders to eat. as we discuss more the upcoming roundtable, indigenous people know the power of sovereignty and the power of making decisions that encompass your own values on behalf of your people. we will hear about how self government means being able to feed your people. the u.s. federal government has much to learn from the indigenous peoples of this land. that priority of feeding your own people is one that i know i will certainly carry with me. with that, mr. secretary, i
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would like to know more about what usda is doing to ensure access to culturally appropriate foods. what do you need from congress to ensure our food programs are meeting all the needs of all who use them? can you tell me a little bit more about the efforts to incorporate regional purchasing in the food distribution on indian reservations program? >> congressman, several points here. we have entered into eight demonstration projects with eight tribes through our office of travel relations to begin to incorporate more fully indigenous foods into the foods that are available under the federal food program for tribes and under our snap program. trying to figure out ways in which we can incorporate more fully and completely the availability of indigenous foods. it's not just the ability of meeting the food security and needs -- cultural needs of
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populations. it's about creating economic opportunity. to the extent that you create a local and regional food system, one that is designed to produce those culturally appropriate foods, you are also creating jobs. you are creating what i referred to earlier as a circular economy. we are continuing to work with tribes to try to do more of this. i would say one of the challenges in this space -- we are trying to address the fraction ownership of land, particularly in tribal areas, as well as african-american farmers. this is an issue we are trying to address with a rule we instituted. there's $120 million that's going to be made available for a revolving loan fund that will create the opportunity for people to consolidate land title, which will allow them to exercise and to be able to access resources from usda.
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these are integrated parts, in terms of what congress can do, you know, one thing you can do is to have a budget. that's the first thing we would like to see. because that would allow us the ability to have sufficient resources to be able to provide the technical assistance that is needed to institute many of these programs. >> in the general question about access to more culturally appropriate foods, which seems to be an issue i hear a lot about. i mentioned my visit to new york city with the met council. is the usda doing anything to try to address that issue? >> one of the things we're trying to do is to make sure we have available processing capacity that creates that culturally appropriate food. as we look at programs we have announced to try to expand capacity and expand competition, we bear in mind that part of those resources need to be done to make sure the kosher foods are available and produced and
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processed in the proper way. >> thank you. >> the gentleman's time has expired. the gentleman from tennessee, mr. dajarla is recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman. secretary vilsack, great to see you here again. last time we spoke i introduced you to the issue of the black vultures which we will talk more about this year, because it's getting worse again. that's not what i want to focus on today. obviously, protecting the health and safety of usda employees and farmers, customers is of critical importance. farmers are not getting an accessible level of service from fsa field offices that they deserve. before covid, farmers were able to come to the office at a time convenient for them on their often strict schedules. now they have a hard time getting an appointment at all.
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sign up for crop 2022 is imminent. when do you expect it to return to normal levels? >> you and i have a difference of opinion on this. we keep track of the level of work that's being done at farm service agencies to try to see whether or not the pandemic has negatively impacted the ability to get work done. in fact, as we see, we are continuing to work at pre-pandemic levels. let me give you a sense of this. in fy21, those folks did 21,833 direct loans, 7,218 guaranteed loans, 12,244 ownership loans, 12,528 operating loans and 4,270 micro-loans. there was a lot of work done in addition to crp and over $7 billion of pandemic assistance provided. the work is getting done. it's getting done because folks are working online, working with
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email, on the phones and they are working in offices. >> well, i would say that, we have the largest farm bureau office in the country in my district. this question came directly from them. maybe i will have someone from your staff, if you don't mind, getting in touch with tennessee farm bureau. they are saying people don't have access to the fsa office. a lot of it is staffing issues due to the covid restrictions and vaccination mandates. supposedly, there is about 80% compliance. but those were people who had gotten one vaccine. what is the status? are people restricted from going to work if they are not fully vaccinated, even the cdc i think yesterday said that natural immunity was more effective than the vaccine. we are in a changing process. the vaccine has kind of mutated as we have gone along. i think we need to get up with the times. main street businesses are getting back and running.
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you are saying the work is getting done. that's not what we are seeing in tennessee. >> there were a lot of loans and activities done. let me say that 88%, almost 89% of our employees have vaccinated. >> with one vaccine, correct? >> i'm answering your question. 97% of the workforce actually is either vaccinate order requested an accommodation. we are working through those accommodations. when they request an accommodation, they have to be masked. they have to have social distancing and things of that nature. 97% of the workforce is currently covered. we are working through the remainder of the workforce encouraging them to get vaccinated and request accommodation. they have time to do that. >> the usda had the highest number of exemption requests. i'm getting double information what you are telling me. >> that's not the case. >> that's good to know. the main thing is, in tennessee,
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i don't know about my colleagues, but they are having issues getting appointments with fsa. we would hope that could be addressed. let me finish. farmers and ranchers feel like the epa is attacking them. i understand why they have these concerns, mr. secretary. can you tell me how you are serving as an advocate for production agriculture and defending agriculture throughout the biden administration? you have 45 seconds. you can have them all. >> encouraging the epa to reach out to farm groups and farmers across the country to listen to concerns they may have about the implementation and formation of the rule. i appreciate the relationship that i have with administrator reagan on that score. we are looking at ways in which we at usda can provide help and assistance once the rules are
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determined in terms of providing assistance and help through our conservation programs to make sure folks are in compliance. encourage outreach and make sure we are using all the tools to help farmers implement as accurately as possible. >> gentleman's time has expired. the gentlewoman from north carolina, miss adams, who is also the vice chair of the committee on agriculture, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, chairman, ranking member, for hosting the hearing. secretary vilsack, good to see you again. rural communities continue to face unique challenges that must be addressed to achieve growth. farmers need resources to be successful. they must receive special attention because they are more vulnerable. farmers continue to experience
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challenges presented by covid-19. supply chain, labor market shortages, access. at the same time, climate change and management of carbon on farms must be considered. as co-chair of the bipartisan hbc caucus, i have to note that our land grand institutions play a role to contribute. these institutions do work that supports surrounding communities, including those located in hard to reach areas. as you know, mr. secretary, these institutions can work more closely with usda. can you speak to any collaboration on rural development, climate health, programs like w.i.c.k. where we can support land grant
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institutions? >> appreciate the question. i had a great meeting with the council presidents representing hvcus. we talked about the opportunity within rural development. first order of business is to make sure there's an understanding of the extraordinary scope of the programs that we have at usda and to encourage greater collaboration. we are beginning to see a number of projects, additional resources provided. $21.8 million provided on 58 projects to expand their reach into the community. we will look at 2501 funds, ways in which we can encourage to provide technical assistance and connection. we recently announced $75 million of resources under the american rescue plan to create that bridge, that connection.
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we look for expansion of that cooperative effort. our nrcs announced a $50 million initiative. over 118 cooperators now being contracted to provide information and assistance in terms of conservation programs. several million dollars to expand outreach so people understand the wide range of crop insurance tools that are available. there's an effort here to make sure that we are doing a better job of connecting. >> thank you, sir. it's important we work to ensure the success. how can nifa better support land grant institutions as it relates to centers of excellence? >> we recently announced a
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center of ag innovation center, $2 million commitment for that purpose. we are seeing additional resources requested in the budget to be able to expand centers of excellence. it's dependent on getting the budget through the process. >> thank you. as you know, many of our states where the 1890 land grant institutions are located do not receive one to one matching. what steps could usda take to ensure that states provide one to one matching funds for these institutions? >> continued advocacy with governors. making sure they are fully aware and appreciate the opportunities in their communities, in their states from having the federal resources leveraged. i think it's important for us to continue to work -- this is a little afield of your question.
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do a better job of connecting with minority serving institutions across the board to encourage more internships, fellowships and scholarships so we create a closer connection. the reason for this is simple. 8% of the workforce at usda is under 35. we will face a significant workforce shortage at some point in time in the near future. we have to make sure we have the brightest and best coming to usda. >> thank you, secretary vilsack. that was my next question about supporting centers of excellence in the 2023 farm bill. based on what you said, you are in support of that. >> the gentle lady from missouri is recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you, mr. secretary, for all you do for agriculture. i'm excited and appreciative of what you are doing to try to promote meat processing plants
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nearby in our rural communities. i know that has been a focus of yours. i did send a letter last july asking for some clarification of what the criteria was going to be for distribution of that first $375 million for independent processors. could you give me an update on the criteria for those monies and more specifically will processors who began operating or conducted any expansions since or during the beginning of covid be able to qualify for these monies? >> we provided some additional resources for existing facilities to expand under our loan guarantee program that was announced several weeks ago. in addition, as you mentioned, the grant program is going to be broken down into two areas. the first $150 million is going to be made available, we hope,
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the framework of that and the structure of that will be disclosed in the next few weeks. it's designed to jump start projects that are ready to go, that are shovel ready. they need a little encouragement. they could be an expansion or they could be new construction. either one will qualify. the hope is that we get 10, 15, 20 projects funded through that process. in the summer, another $225 million of grant resource and $275 million of additional low interest financing will become available. that will also be available for both existing facilities wishing to expand and for new facilities. the goal here i think is to make sure that we are addressing the wide array and range of needs from very, very small processing operations to mid-sized operations. we are hopeful that we see farmer-owned cooperatives take a look at the possibility of
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accessing some of these resources so that we expand capacity and obviously competition. the belief is when we do that, producers will benefit and so will consumers. >> sure. there is some entities that stood up because they saw a need. they went in debt. now they can't qualify because they are already up and running. they are not expanding. they started fresh. i would encourage you, maybe we could talk offline, to not forget everyone who put everything on line and mortgaged everything. but now they don't qualify just because of the timing. anyway, i timing. so anyway, i would appreciate if we could talk further about that and we don't leave anybody out who has stood up and really tried to help in that regard. there is also recent news regarding -- and it is exciting,
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successful transplant of a heart from a genetically engineered pig into a human. and that is certainly an advancement we can be pleased about, with biotechnology. unfortunately also a stark reminder of lack of a clear path to commercialization for animal biotechnology products intend forward agriculture rather than medical purposes. university of missouri in my district has been a leader in developing a resistant hogs. and because of the current process and jurisdictional mayhem, this technology is net yet available for producers and yet china and other countries are moving forward very rapidly to get to this point but we already have that technology. mr. secretary, how do you plan tone gauge at hhs to finalize the work started on the
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genetically engineered animals. >> congresswoman, we actually thought we had done that work with a signed mou but there is some indication from the fda and department of health and human services they believe there was authority for folks who signed that on behalf of fda. as soon as the fda commissioner is confirmed we will work very closely with that individual to make sure there is ongoing discussions and negotiations to complete that mou. >> that would be great. reuters reported that divided administrations considering lowering the flooring of -- mandate below the proposed --. are you aware -- do you agree cutting -- >> the gentlelady's time has expired. mr. secretary you may follow up. >> i would just mention that the
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bio fuel levels for 2021, 2022 are highest in the history of the program, which indicates projective groit and in addition the department of agriculture is providing 700 million dollars additional industry to get it through the pandemic situation as well as hundred billion dollars to expand access to higher blend. i can make the case this is an industryhundred billion dollars expand access to higher blend. i can make the case this is an industry of support among the 65 waivers denied by the e parks a might very well have been granted during the previous administration. >> the gentlewoman from connecticut ms. hayes also chairman of the subcommittee on nutrition, oversight, department operations is recognized now for five minutes. >> goompl good morning mr. chair and thank you secretary vilsack for being here today.
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first i'd like to discuss food access in rural areas through the snap online pilot purchasing pilot. since the creation of the pilot program in 2019 and onset of the covid-19 pandemic, snap online purchasing has expanded into 48 states and over 75 snap retailers. in connecticut snap recipients can buy grocery online from five grocery stores. though none are small independent businesses. however the eligibility to actually utilize the program is not equitable across the country. although most states have a snap online purchasing retailers, the retailers do not always serve all zip codes with in a state. according to to a 2019 study online purchasing and delivery services were available to only 31% of census tracts in rural food deserts.
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secretary vilsack, congress has provided $30 million for the usda to invest in snap online purchasing and other snap technological modernizations throughout the pandemic. how has the usda used the funds congress provided to make snap online purchasing a reality in all rural areas? and how can congress assist in making the programs more accessible in these areas? >> congresswoman, the information i have is that today 97% of households have the opportunity for online purchasing. obviously i'll be happy to go back and check and make sure those numbers are accurate. but to the extent that there is a need for a continued focus on rural remote areas i would say a couple things. first of all we are looking forward at some point this time early in 2022 and announcing a healthy food financing initiative using resources from the american rescue plan to begin aggressively addressing the issue of food deserts. part of the issue is not just
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access to online but ability of having facilities to provide food to folks. so that is one thing we expect to do and focus of that effort will be on rural and remote areas. secondarily we're also making sure we're helping food banks who also help to service those same individuals, be able to have accesses to resources to be able to figure out ways in which they can easily and more completely -- >> -- lost audio and we'll pause for a moment .6.
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the committee room has lost audio. going to pause for a moment and get that --.
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>> i think we're on. bravo. >> mr. chairman let me. >> please. >> -- finish the last comment. and has to do with the role of food banks trying to respond to rural remote food needs. we've also provided a hundred million of what we rougher ever refer to reach and resiliency for food banks across the
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country to address the need for food security and rural remote areas and allow them to have the infrastructure and refrigeration and storage capacity. hopefully we are addressing in multitude of ways need for access to food in those areas. >> members of the subcommittee have been working diligently to address veteran hunger. the usda's economic research service released a report last year finding that more than 11% of working age veterans lived in food insecure households and that veterans have a 7.4% greater risk of food insecurity than the general population. to address this deeply concerning reality, how is the usda working with the va to target food assistance to veterans? and how is the usda working to ensure eligible veterans know about their eligibility to take advantage of these types of programs?
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>> we're working with veterans affairs to make sure that as individuals leave service in the department of defense as they leave service that they are fully and completely aware of the resources that are available to them. including the ability to access snap benefits. we'll continue to work with both the va and defense department to make sure we're doing the very jo best job we possibly can to make sure those resources are available. you know this is a, you know, a sad state of affairs that folks are -- who have served our country are in need of this kind of assistance and we need to make sure they get it. >> thank you, secretary vilsack. we had a hearing in our subcommittee and heard from veterans and it is tragic that this is happening here in this country and we have a responsibility to do better. so i look forward to working with you to make sure that we close those gaps and support our veterans. i'm coming to the end of my
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time. and i'll leave you with one last question. and perhaps if you don't have time you can follow up on. between 2016 and 2020, the number of full time employees at the usda decreased from nearly 94,900 to approximately 86,400. has this decrease affected usda's ability to communicate about new programs and process to participate in them? and how can congress assist usda in ensuring you have adequate staffing levels that you need to take on the responsibilities we have tasked you with, especially as we work towards this upcoming farm bill. >> i think one of the areas where we have dealt with the decline of workforce is in the natural resource conservation service and in our forest service in our ability to maintain -- >> the lady's time has expired. the gentlemen from illinois, mr. davis is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you chairman and
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ranking member for holding this hearing. and also to my friend secretary vilsack for coming the testify again today. it is great to see you. i get to ask questions a little sooner than when we first met a few years ago when you were sitting at that same table. hey, mr. secretary, back in november we held a hearing on the supply chain crisis and the consensus was that every sector is actually being crushed by this administration's rampant spending agenda that's really driving high costs and inflation. these impacts are being felt by constituents everywhere. they see it in empty grocery store shelves. they pay more at the pump and local businesses. and usda case, struggling to find employees. approximately 11 million -- delegates certified -- agencies receiving snap benefits but can start working immediately to fill the approximately 10.6 million open jobs that we have.
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we've got an entire untapped workforce that could be moving products, stocking shelves and filling jobs, but that is if we prioritize employment and training programs to train. we could immediately solve a huge piece of the puzzle in supply chain crisis. i know the administration has issued several funding announcements to address the crisis but how can we get people back to work after two years of paying people to stay home. >> i had little hard time understanding the question but i think i'll try to respond to it. you know, one of the things that we are doing is obviously individual states have the ability to make decisions concerning the administration of snap and the ability to encourage folks who are able bodied to get back into the workforce. some states have exercised that power. other states are still in the process of deciding whether to exercise that power. part is i think important for states to analyze their current
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circumstance and make a decision about what to do. in the meantime we're looking at ways which we can provide help and assistance at usda. one of the areas that we're concerned about, frankly is -- is the fact that there are agricultural products that are available and ready for export but for whatever reason, there are empty containers leaving our ports because shippers are making the decision that it is more profitable for them to have empty containers and moved back to asia than to fill withing a dhurl products. so they are looking for ways to utilize resources to fill containers. as we do i think that is going create opportunities not only for agriculture but potentially for additional. nobody anticipated the number of people who made the life decision to retire. this is a challenge and it is one that we're going to have to take a look at creatively to try to address. >> yeah it is a challenge.
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and i agree. but i also think there may be some ways to utilize snap education and training program to get snap beneficiaries training they need to go fill jobs that are available to replace those -- >> well -- i'm sorry. we just passed, we just finish ad rule on improving the employment and training under the snap program. and it is important to talk about this. because again, it's state's responsibility to take the resources we're providing them, millions of dollars. in many cases states don't spend those resources. and that is unfortunate. and many cases they don't do a particularly good job. they know who the snap beneficiaries are and they know where the workforce needs are. because workforce development offices. and what this new rule is requiring states to do is to do a better job of marrying that information and data, so they can create opportunities for folks to be gainfully employed. so hopefully this new rule will
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address some of the concerns that you are raising. >> great. that's good. i'd love to continue to work with you and the agency on ensuring that our states do the right thing and use the program. i don't have a lot of time left mr. secretary. i do want to make sure, you know, obviously prioritizing higher ethanol and bio diesel fuels to help reduce emissions and lower prices at the pump. i want toed get your response on usda's higher blend infrastructure incentive program. its been successful in increasing availability. do you have any further plans to bolster the hpiip program? >> well i think we just announced about a hundred billion to encourage expansion of higher blended fuels. and also a tremendous opportunity in aviation fuel. the grand challenge recently announced creates tremendous
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opportunity to expansion. >> the gentlemen from new york. chair of the subcommittee on commodity, exchanges, energy and credit is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you chairman scott for holding this hearing. and i want to thank secretary vilsack for testifying us today. secretary vilsack one issue i'd like to raise relates to milk consumption. a priority you and i both share. as we've spoken about it previously, including when you dame to my district and met with my indistricting a dhur advisory committee. al current law stipulates milk offerings in schools must aileen with the most recently dietary guidelines. but i'm concerned when the
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guidelines were last updated in 2020 the dietary guideline advisory committee didn't --. with whole milk being the choice when compared to skim or low fat milk options. we know it has a clear track record improving milk consumption. we also know the dgac wants to increase milk consumption. i hope the next go round the they will more carefully consider the full body of science. i also appreciate that when you visited my district last -- you spoke about examines ways to encourage whole milk in schools. possibly even a pilot program. >> congressman, one of the key problems with the issue of whole
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milk is cost. if you talk to school nutrition folks out there in the countryside, they operate on a very difficult and tight budget. and part of the issue is cost. one thing we can do in terms of additional consumption of milk is to take a look at ways in which the current supply of milk is being made available and whether or not it is a barrier to consumption. if you look at the research you are going find that the containers that are used in schools are a barrier. they are difficult to open and so kids often times just pass on the milk. often times the temperature of the milk is not what it needs to be. so we're looking at ways which we can provide resources to schools to basically create a way in which the milk can be distributed at a very cold temperaturel and in containers that are less cumbersome. as a way of increasing milk
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consumption. i would point out that while milk consumption is down in this country, dairy consumption is not down. it is actually up. we may not drink as much as we used to. but we certainly eat more than we used to. in terms of cheese and yogurt and things of that nature. and we've instituted those products into the school lunch and school breakfast programs. >> i appreciate that. one other question just as follow-up in terms of the cost. i know you mentioned the manner in which the containers are presented could be helpful. but is there any thought being given to the ways cost can be addressed from the agency? >> well, you all have the opportunity to make a determination and to provide the budget and resources that would enable the reimbursement rate and the resources available to schools could be increased to provide the additional resources. right now as a result of the pandemic we're doing what we can
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to increase access to resources as school districts are faced with some serious challenges. and one of the reasons there is a challenge is that not only -- food is -- we're changing the way in which and where we eat food. about 10% more in-home consumption today than pre pandemic. and that's created a need for a shift away supplying to restaurants versus supplying it to a grocery store, different packaging, different sized containers et cetera. all of which the supply chain is working through as we hopefully at some point in time return to whatever the new normal is. >> i appreciate that. -- up against my five minutes so i will circle back to you at a later date. i yield back the rest of my time. thank you. >> the gentlemen from georgia, mr. allen, is recognized for five minutes.
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mr. allen, you may want to unmute. >> there we go. can you hear okay? >> yes i can. >> great. thank you mr. chairman, and thank you mr. secretary. we've been wanting to hear from you, we're almost a year into this administration and we've been wanting to hear from you, particularly now that, you know, we're a nation in crisis. go to the gas pump, you may get gas, you may not. -- fossil fuel. also seem to have a war on agriculture. we've got in my district we've got farmers trying to export cotton, peanuts, pecans, you name it and we can't get containers. loaded to -- for whatever reason china and their situation containers going back empty. so we've got just crisis after
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crisis after crisis on the supply chain issue and i'm sure you are going hear a lot more about that. one issue that is specific to my district is as you are aware the epa ban the food tolerance of a critical pesticide and right now epa's decision pointed out our science supports continued safe use of this chemical typically in these situations usda would go to omb and there would be some kind of ruling there. where are we with the space station on this particular chemical? and what are you doing about it? >> good question, congressman. and i will tell you that we have ongoing conversations and discussions with epa. i don't know that we've necessarily reached a consensus.
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but the discussions are ongoing. >> you know, we're getting close to planting season here. so a sense of urgency as you might understand. as far as the -- you know, as far as the situation with the cost of food at the grocery store. i'm getting hammered with that in the district. where are we with that? and what -- what are you doing as far as investigative work and what might happen to relieve some of that pressure? >> well i think there are a couple of -- first of all threes been in some of the areas where we've seen increased price, good news is there's been some deceleration last couple of months. hopefully that continues.
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meat in particular has going just a bit. this is basically strong demand. and as i indicated earlier, strong demand globally and national. and essentially we're changing our patterns of how we eat and where we eat and the supply chain is in the process of adjusting to the fact we're eating more at home and less out at restaurants. we are trying to address the issue of ports by encouraging longer hours at the ports. i mentioned the efforts to try to get more drivers in trucks with apprenticeship programs and licenses being issues. we've got pop up ports being encouraged to create movement of those containers and getting them into the stream of commerce. we're continue to work for ways we can provide help and assistance for families struggling. that is why we have the snap program and review of the food program, why we've provided additional assistance to schools in form of additional catch and
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food products we're purchasing. the summer program encouraging states to again apply for or to provide their plans, so there is a variety of things we're doing to try to help folks through this difficult period. why we're trying to balance supply and command. >> also recent attacks on our packaging industries. of course we talked. you are taking action as far as the meat industry. but our chicken folks are very concerned about production and things like that. obviously have you been in -- have you been on the front lines and talked to these folks about the issues they are dealing with? obviously workforce. we got workforce prabs in agriculture. i got about 18 seconds. tell me what you are doing there. >> well, we're working through a
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federal case that basically denied our rule. we're working with nine entities, nine businesses, five have applied for waiver. we're in the process of reviewing the waivers. we've created a waiver system. only the poultry side we've asked for the count ever court to remand the litigation back to usda so we can try to create a similar waiver process in the poultry area. so we are focused on that. >> the gentlemen's time has expired. the gentlemen from illinois, mr. rush is recognized for five minutes. >> through mr. chairman for this hearing. secretary vilsack, i'm delighted you once again are with us here today before this committee. and i want you to know that i really appreciate your continued commitment to working with me and the other members of this committee.
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mr. secretary, we really want to work with you. we really do. and i am delighted that the feeling is mutual. too much unused potential agriculturally in my city of chicago and immediately surrounding areas. chicago was at one time and still is a hub for railroads that connect our nation for agriculture. it is a need a place where there is a lot of vacant land that can be used specifically for vertical farming.
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mr. secretary, i think i might have shared with you, that for decades chicago was the nation's flower capital, pickle capital and lettuce capital for our nation. and celery capital for our nation. and i think one thing that chicago has the potential to being a significant in the agricultural sector. with that said mr. secretary, i want to discuss the prognosis under your leadership. our nation's farmers are in desperate need of assistance. in 1920 there was almost one million -- farmers, of which my
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grandfather was one. and 2017 there were less than 50,000 rice farmers making up only 1.4% of the farming population. mr. secretary, with no action this situation will only get worse. it was recently reported that loan applications are significantly more likely to be rejected for -- farmers than for -- farmers. and even when approved -- farmers far less of white farmers. moreover black farmers too often
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still feel unwelcome in these local usda field offices. i know that you are working hard. your department is working hard and your direction to reverse these injustices once and for all. and my question to you, mr. secretary is will you please outline exactly how usda is working to help minority farmers and black farmers? >> congressman, thank you very much for the question. when i saw the statistics concerning the decline rate of african american farm applications i asked the team to take a look at, in-depth look at the reason. and what we found was that it often times in some cases the application was withdrawn. in some cases the application was incomplete. in some cases the application just simply didn't have the cash flow that made -- that made sense. a lot of the different reasons.
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but i think the fundamental concern and the fundamental challenge is that folks do not have the technical assistance to be able to understand precisely how to access usda programs. and for that reason, under the american rescue plan we are using resources to provide assistance to create cooperating groups that can connect with those african american farmers, those black farmers to provide the technical assistance, the financial planning, the business planning, the development of applications, so that there is more success. so the first order of business here is to get folks the kind of technical assistance they need. and the usda is expanded significantly efforts in that regard. and we're going to continue to expand efforts. there is a lot more i can say but i see my time is up. >> the gentlemen from north carolina is recognized now for five minutes. >> thank you chairman scott. and mr. secretary always good to see you.
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appreciate you being here today. i want to follow up on this inflation aspect certainly supply and demand is key comment. but government policy effects supply and demand. lack of labor is a big issue. exacerbates the problem. are -- restriction of oil and natural gas in the country. all that plays a part. in this inflation crisis that we're seeing. and i note that the administration and you went after the meat and poultry industry pretty strong not long ago. and i know also that the administration is pursuing additional gyp is a rules on
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these industries which will only further derive risk which increases cost which increases inflation for consumers.industr further derive risk which increases cost which increases inflation for consumers. i really really push back on the new gipsa rules as strongly as and i note multiple congresses have reject these proposals in the past. are you still intent on moving forward with these given the inflation crisis that we have in this country? >> well, congressman, you know i don't think the gipsa rules are connected to inflation. i think the strong demand that we're seeing in a growing economy, an economy that is growing at a record rate is in part a response. let me just simply say about gipsa. farmers deserve a fair shake in the marketplace. and they don't get a fair shake. they do not get a fair shake in the marketplace. poultry producers are not -- are not given a fair shake in the
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tournament system. it is not transparent. they have very little rights. they have the rug pulled out from them on multiple occasions. terrible stories. of investments they make only to find that the integrator basically pulls business from them. so this is about fundamental fairness. it is about giving farmers a fair shake. and you know what, that's the -- i think that's the department's business. that is our role. is to make sure that we're giving farmers a fair shake. number one. number two, it is important to expand capacity. when 85% of beef processing is in the hands of four companies. when 70% of pork processing is in the hands of four companies. when over 50% of poultry processes is in the hands of four companies, it's simply too concentrated. there is not enough capacity and there is not enough competition. and frankly if we had more competition we'd give consumers choice. and if consumers have choice, i guarantee you that's also going to impact and effect price in a
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positive way. so we're going to continue to do this. >> mr. secretary, new rules and regulations only add to cost and drive further consolidation. >> it is about fairness. fairness. >> moving forward here. as you probably know. i hope that you know. appropriation subcommittee chairwoman delauro included a provision to reduce line speeds in poultry plants, which all that is going to do is reduce supply. you reduce supply and can you have high demand. you are driving up cost. what are we going to do about that? >> well i think it is important for us to understand that there are three dynamics here. there is the need for continued farmer productivity and profit. there is a need for worker safety. and there is a need for the processers as well. and the goal here is not necessarily to pit worker safety against farmers profits or farmer profits against processer. the goal here is to try to
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figure out how to balance. i think there is a way forward. i think we found this with a pilot program that we've got in the pork industry. where we are encouraging folks to look at worker safety and also to look at line speed. and i think there is a way to find a common ground here. and that is what we're going to try to do, continue to try to do at usda. i'm encouraged by the fact that 5 of the 9 pork producers are looking -- processers are looking for a line speed waiver so that they can have a higher line speed but at the same time protecting the workers. that seems to me to be the way we ought to approach this. >> mr. secretary, i only have about 20 seconds left. african swine fever, i know you are concerned about that and i'm sure the department is doing everything possible to keep it out of the country. can you provide a quick oupd than that front. >> significant investment of time and resources in the dominican republic working with them to put together a plan. dr. sheer spent literally weeks
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in the dominican republic. >> the gentlemen's time has expired. and now i recognize the gentlewoman from ohio. ms. brown for five minutes. >> thank you chairman scott and ranking member thompson for holding this hearing. and thank you secretary vilsack for joining us today to review the state of the of the rural economy and operations of the department of ag. as we know too well, covid-19 has taken a heavy toll on many of our communities and deepened the hunger crisis. usda's economic research service found that while the number of americans who are food insecure remain level through 2020. hunger increase forward black and latino families, and the food insecure household rate was significantly higher than the national average. 21.7% versus 10.5. unfortunately the pandemic's impact on hunger was felt quite and equitably. food insecurity is
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unconscionable kriming reality for far too many americans and community which is not flourish when so many people particularly students lack access to nutritious food. -- enabling schools to provide healthy and nutritious meals to children in afterschool care. i'm also co-lead of congresswoman elma adams coming legislation seeks to combat college hunger. so my first question is, on september 16th, 2015, the federal government announced the u.s. 2030 food loss and waste reduction goal. the first federal goal of this kind seeks to cut food loss and waste in half by the year 2030. what does the usda doing to advance the united states 2030 food loss and waste reduction goal? >> we're working with what we
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refer to as champions, an extended group of industry leaders that are working with us to try to identify ways in which food waste can be reduced. we're working with schools, universities, with the food industry. we're working with grocery stores. we're working with restaurants. we're working with food processing companies all designed to find creative ways to deal with the issue of food waste. roughly 30% of what we grow and raise in this country is wasted. and it is -- it is an i unfortunate circumstance and one which we are very serious about reducing. we are i think looking for a set of conferences and webinars in 2022 to raise the awareness of this issue. we're going to take a look at what other countries are doing. i know that there is some innovative and creative opportunities for food waste reduction in asian countries in particular. so there is an opportunity for us to learn from that as well. portion sizes are critically
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important. and we're obviously encouraging folks to, especially in restaurants to think about that and to give people choices in terms of portion sizes. >> thank you so much. my second question, as mandated by the 2018 farm bill in december 2021, usda completed a report that assesses the progress of food loss and waste efforts. the report concludes that there is a lack of overall funding for programs. can you tlooib these programs for us.outline these programs for us. >> which programs? >> the u.s. -- in the farm bill, the usda completed a report of the progress of food and loss waste effort. there is a lack of overall funding. i understand is there -- can you outline the issues around the funding for these programs. >> well, i'll have a better understanding of that when we utilize a portion of the american rescue plan resources
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to create more incentives and more resources available for food waste efforts. one of the things that we're doing with reference to urban agriculture is expanding the compost opportunity with grants and there is a potential opportunity to significantly increase investment in compost. which would begin to address food waste. one initial way is to encourage, obviously i mentioned portion size. reduce and -- and then of course the issue of recycling as well. so there is a multitude of strategies and with additional resources from the american rescue plan, we should be able to provide additional incentives to advance those strategies so that people become more aware of them. >> thank you. and i yield back the balance of my time. >> the gentlemen from south dakota, mr. johnson is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you mr. chairman and thank you mr. secretary we've talked a lot about lives
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livestock issues in the past year. the administration's had some rhetoric suggesting a fair amount of wrong doing or perhaps anti-competitive behavior among the large four. and there is so much frustration i think out in cattle country about doj investigations and activity that takes place and we don't really get any resolution. i understand there are some reasons for that. but i just wanted to pick your brain, sir. if we've got concerns about the marketplace and we announce an investigation seemingly every year and we never drive to a conclusion, does that actually benefit the marketplace at all? your thoughts. >> well i think there is action by the department of justice on a number of cases that are going through the process. so you have to let them go through the process before you
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can make a determination whether or not they were legitimate or not. we did recently announce a joint effort between department of justice and usda providing area and opportunity for people to report anti-competitive activities so we can learn more of what's going on on the ground. in the meantime what we're doing at usda is to try to focus on two -- three things. one, creating more competition and capacity. two, creating more price discovery to the extent that we can get more information on cash sales and more studies to do that, we're obviously interested in that. so we have a better understanding what the market is. and three, making sure that farmers get a fair shake and that they have the ability if they are not being treated fairly to basically raise issues. and that gets to the packers and stockyards. and finally, we also want to make sure that consumers get the right information in the country, in the grocery store. if there is a label on a ground beef, pound of ground beef that
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says product of u.s. we want to make sure consumers understand what that means. so we're doing a extensive survey so understand whether kourms understand that and whether they place value on it. >> all that is very well said and i applaud your efforts in many of everies. i agree. the current product label, i think is misleading. i think it provides inaccurate information to consumers. and listen, i'm not going hold you fully accountable or accountable at all for promises the last guy made. but we've heard for years now we were going to reform the product of the usa and i hope you can get it done sir in a way that maybe others couldn't. i want to get back to these investigations though. and you are right. we need to let them run their course but we had usda conduct an investigation, they released some sort of interim report long after the holcomb fire. but it didn't really drive to ground some of these accusations
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about anti-competitive behavior. can we expect an update? what is the status of that investigation? >> i'll have to get back to you on that congressman. because i'm not prepared today to tell you exactly what the status of that is. our staff will get back to your staff on that. >> sure. >> i would say i've talked to the attorney general. i think he and his team are very sincere about this. they want to make sure that the playing field is level. and i think we should all be in for that. >> and i also want, you mention price discovery. just critically important to a functional marketplace. and i think you are almost certainly aware that last month the house passed out 410 yes vets to 11 no votes, the cattle contract library. i think the white house has done a good job calling out support for a number of different legislative proposals. are there any discussions internally with your team sir, with the white house about doing what you can to see that the
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cattle contract library also gets through the senate. it would provide the much-needed transparency you talked about. >> we're very supportive of that effort and very supportive of trying to get information so people know what a legitimate contract is and what reasonable contract provisions are. >> and finally sir, we've got -- i know that there are concerns about confidentiality with the data that is released currently. i think there is some belief that maybe those confidentiality issues stand in the way of price discovery. can there be some flexibility if those provisions going forward? >> well you got -- somebody -- smart enough people ought to be able to figure this out to be able to get the kind of information you need to make sure your market is fair, while at the same time making sure that you are not going over board. and that is the goal here. well will certainly work towards
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that goal. >> time of the gentlemen has expired. the gentlewoman from maine is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you very much mr. chair. thank you for holding this hearing. and secretary vilsack, it is wonderful to have you in front of us and great to hear your answers to all of our questions today. i comment you to speaking around the issue fs of gipsa, lack of fairness in the tournament system, line speeds. critical issues to address both for farmers and also if health and safety of people who work in our production facilities. so thank you for that. but i'll get on to my questions. you know all too well that deno one recently announced they will be pulling out of the northeast, terminating contracts of 89 organic dairy farms including unfortunately 14 farms in maine.
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in response to this there's been a stakeholder task force convened and they have submitted a list of over thirty recommendations to you last month to both support the farms who are losing contracts and to ensure the long-term success of the organic dairy sector in our region, which has been so important to our dairy farms. these recommendations encompass everything from building more regional processing capacity to developing new markets, addressing transportation and distribution challenges. a lot of things can be done. can you talk about the steps the usda is taking to act on those recommendations? >> immediately following the announcement we basically put together a meeting of secretaries and agriculture and encouraged the development of that report. and certainly pleased to see the comprehensive nature of it addressing a multitude of issueses. issues that not only the does the federal government have to be serious about but also state governments as well and also the
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dairy industry. glad to see that stony field has stepped for and made commitment to provide help and assistance and that danone has extended the deadline if you will. i seen a meeting of our team so we can go through the recommendations and find out what we can essentially do in terms of providing help and assistance. i think we'll be able to help on some of the registrations. i think other recommendations are probably more appropriately done at state and local level and industry level, but we will be getting a response back to the task force in the near future with what we think we are able to do. and the good news is i think we have resources we can put to bear to provide help and assistance. we're concerned about that and it is reflective frankly of other challenges we have other regions of the country. >> thank you for that. and i do agree some of the money
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that's been made available to deal with the issues that we're dealing with the in the supply chain and farmers around the country should be helpful to this. -- climate change, so critically important. we do not want to lose that capacity. so keeping them operating is high, high priority for our new england delegation. i also want to ask you about climate support agriculture. i appreciated your comments in the testimony about ensuring the usda climate smart agriculture and forestry partnerships will be available to producers all sides, all locations and all types of protection, which we care deeply about. so even though i know you are working out the details, can you help us understand how you will structure the program to ensure this commitment is met?
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>> the goal here obviously is to, and hopefully soon, to announce the framework and the process the application process and the hope is that we are able to make some decisions on applications in mid 2022. and again, i think we -- we are structuring this in a way that small-sized operators, different types of operations, different production methods will be respected. different geographic challenges will also be addressed. so it is going to be concerted effort here to try to respond to all of agriculture's need to participate in this effort and to take full advantage of the resources that are available. and we're going make sure that underserved producers and communities are also not forgotten in the process. that is the commitment. and i can guarantee you that we will make sure that we live up to that commitment. >> great. well, i really do appreciate the commitment. i know from dealing with so many programs, it is one of the biggest issues we hear from our
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region to make sure that as we implement these program, they meet the needs of our farmers. and i am out of time but i greatly appreciate your time here and i'll submit a couple other question for the record. thank you. >> the gentlemen from indiana is recognized for five minutes. >> you have this mr. chairman for you and ranking member for holding this session today. i want to congratulate the sekt for serving once against as our secretary of the u.s. department of agriculture. first part of my comments, you can take a brief breather, because you have already answered the question. but i wanted to comment just to reinforce that. and that deals with the biotechnology because i really think it is going to play a major role in our ability in agriculture to be able to feed the number growing population
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around the world. and even last fall representative plaskett and i sent a bipartisan letter that was signed by 37 members of the committee to you and the fda acting administrator janet woodcock erj urging the things make progress of implementing more efficient science and risk based regulatory system that would allow a path to the mark for animal biotechnology products. and i was really glad to hear that you are working on an moa, memorandum of understanding. and to emphasize the importance of biotechnology, the pig's heart that representative mentioned was going into a human being was somewhat genetically modified to make it less resistant to go into a human body. i just think that we think that the usda needs to take a lead in developing a regulatory framework for animal
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biotechnology. and that encourages agriculture innovation and provides access to valuable new technologies. and one of the things i'm thinking about there for example, is that we have feed ingredients that we can reduce the methane from cattle by 36%. but yet that has to go through an fda process rather than a usda. so so that part of my question period deals with reinforcing that idea and so on. if you have comments, you are welcome to make those at this time. and then i do have a question after that. >> well let me just respond to the feed issue that you just raised. i agree with you. i think we do need to modernize our regulatory processes. it relates to those kind of feed additives so that we don't treat them necessarily as pharmaceutical products and having to go through a very extensive and very expensive process when other nations are
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getting the feed additive into their dairy industry, for example, and allowing them to essentially get a market advantage by suggesting that their dairy products, for example, are more sustainable produced. so i agree. i think we do need to have a modernized approach here. >> thank you very much. i appreciate that answer very much. my question now gets down to the pandemic. you know its been tough on the entire economy as you know and especially farmers and ranchers. and so the question comes up, the spot market hog production program or pandemic program, i have producers telling me they have had difficulty in accessing those funds. and so i'm asking you what the current status is, and how soon we think we can get that kind of support to our pork producers? >> well we've published a notice
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of funding availability in december. december 14th. we created a sign up period from december 15th to february 25th. so we're obviously, we are, we initially set it up. as we set it up. we realized that there were some issues relative to the eligibility requirements that created some challenges. so we're in the process of revising our application process. we hope to get that done very soon. and the expectation is that once we do, we hope to be able to see payments made some time in hopefully march, the march time frame. >> well thank you. we really appreciate that effort and want to reemphasize how important it is to some of the pork producers and the problems they have endured during this pandemic. so thank you very much. and thank you very much for being here. i yield back. >> the gentlewoman from new
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hampshire new hampshire, ms. custer is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you so much mr. chairman. and welcome to secretary vilsack. great to be with you. we appreciate you being here today. for nearly two years our country has been grappling with the covid-19 pandemic. not only the staggering death toll and its cause but also the devastating impact that its had on our economy. in rural communities, hospitals and healthcare centers in my district and across this country had been pushed to the brink, farmers and producers have faced numerous supply chain challenges and many families have struggled to work and learn from home with insufficient broadband connectivity. the good news is provisions in the american rescue plan and the bipartisan infrastructure package, as well as the widespread availability of vaccines and booster shots are starting to make a tremendous difference. but as the omicron variant continues to rage, there is no doubt we still have a long way to go toward recovery.
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mr. secretary there is no lack of ground to cover so let's dive right in. last may i joined 49 other democratic members in signing a letter to you calling for usda to dedicate $300 million in relief funding for one on one business technical assistance for farms and food businesses. business technical assistance includes customized coaching for business and marketing, planning, financial and labor management and success planning. these skills are essential to the success of small and mid-sized farms like those in my district and the long-term viability. the administration seems to have focused technical assistance on the middle of the supply chain, on underserved communities and usdo programming. all of this is important but there is a much broader need for business technical assistance for farm and food businesses across the nation. can you share your progress on this request to my colleagues --
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that my colleagues and i submitted to you. >> well we are in the process of expanding our efforts in terms of the cooperators, i mentioned earlier we provide $75 million to 20 entities to basically provide additional assistance and help. we expect and anticipate that there is going to be another request for application that will expand that number significantly and expand the reach of our collaborative efforts significantly. so hopefully that will be in part responding to the concern that you have. we're also going -- >> thank you. i'm just going keep moving along if you don't mind. we'll look forward to those results. i know it is a very successful program. i program. i also wanted to talk with you about how we can continue to decarbonize the agricultural sector, recognizing farmers for the steps they've already taken and incentivising further
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progress. your building blocks report found that improved energy efficiency offers the biggest opportunity for reducing greenhouse gases. i agree, but i've heard from constituents that the ceiling for the rural energy for america program, r.e.a.p., needs to be higher and we need to prioritize small farm projects. with that in mind how can usda and its partners in the federal government help expand on-farm renewable energy use? >> we would certainly like to see more resources in the reprogram. it would be interesting to take a look at the data in terms of who has bend from r.e.a.p. i think you'll find that several thousand of those grants went to small and mid-size farming operations to embrace renewable energy and energy efficiency. we're going to continue to work, and obviously the passage of a budget would be helpful, because then we would have a certain amount of funding that we could be sort of assured of getting
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and resources and personnel to be able to appropriately administer those programs. i think the climate smart partnership is also an opportunity for significant pilots and demonstration projects to lift up the decarbonization effort. so i think there are a multitude of ways that we can provide help and assistance. >> great. then in my final moments, shifting gears to dairy. in just a couple of months schools will start contracting for their milk supplies for upcoming school year 2022-'23. there's long running discussion whether schools should be able to offer low-fat flavored milk. congress has been allowing low-fat flavored milk but schools need the predictability and certainty of knowing what the rules will be. i understand your department has
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submitted a rule to omb to cover the next two years which is much appreciated. cue commit to providing regulation that provides schools with the certainty they need? >> the gentlelady's time has expired, but mr. secretary, you may answer. >> yes. >> thank you. >> thank you, and i yield back. is. >> the gentleman from ohio, mr. balderson, is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman, and thank you, secretary vilsack, for taking time to come to the committee. so many people in my district throughout ohio and rural america still don't have reliable broadband access. i think we all can agree here that what matters most is making sure we get to a point where every american is connected. that being said, my primary concern is that usda is not using the funds at its disposable efficiently and in a targeted manner. last week, lisa hone, an expert on broadband policy at the white
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house, briefed administration staff and rural stakeholders saying the usda's reconnect program is focusing on very rural areas. reconnect was created to target those areas and for the most part, it always has. however, this assurance from ms. hone seems to be at odds with usda's recent changes to the program. in reconnect round 3, the definition of underserved was changed from 25 megabytes per second download speeds and 3 megabits per second upload speeds to 100 down, 20 up. sorry for the confusing numbers there. this was done solely at the discretion of the usda. this only brings up overbuilding concerns for areas that already have access to 25 down, 3 up, but also concerns that the usda will be spending more money upgrading networks in areas where people already at least had some sort of high speed broadband service rather than in very rural areas where many
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households completely lack broadband. to me it looks like usda purposely made round 3 less targeted towards these very rural households. can you explain why this change was made, and how are you making sure that the third round reconnect funding will continue to target households that have no internet access rather than overbuilding private capital or upgrading networks that already exist? thank you. >> the reason for doing this is we learned from the pandemic that 25/3 isn't sufficient. when you're dealing with distance learning, telemedicine, expanded access to market for small business, precision agriculture on the farm, there is a need for additional capacity which we learned during the course of the pandemic. so it's equipping rural america to basically have the kind of broadband access that is meaningful and that actually can make a difference. at the same time, the structure of the program does in fact prioritize 25/3.
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so to your point, i think there are additional points for rural remote areas. there are additional points for cooperatives and nonprofits basically applying for these resources. so the structure of the program i think will result in a significant improvement of access to meaningful broadband and at the same time providing resources to those unserved and underserved areas that you're concerned about, because of the way the point system is structured. >> okay. thank you very much for the answer. my next question, mr. secretary, the infrastructure investment and jobs act redefined eligible service areas where the reconnect program for 90% of households underserved to 50%, effectively reducing how targeted the program is towards very rural areas. to that end, are you concerned this reduced threshold will cause reconnect to be less targeted and create overbuilding of broadband networks in areas that are already receiving funds
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from other federal broadband programs? i'll follow that -- go ahead, sir. >> no, i'm not, because i think the way in which you can structure the point system that's used to evaluate applications, can allow you to ensure that you're directing the program where it's needed most. and also to the fact that there was as well a waiver of the match requirement which i suspect will also encourage and we'll see applications from areas that have been historically underserved. so i'm not as concerned about the lowering of that threshold as you might be. >> okay. thank you, mr. secretary. mr. chairman, i yield back my remaining time. >> the gentleman from illinois -- gentlelady, i'm sorry, ms. bustos, who is also chair of the subcommittee on commodities and risk management,
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for five minutes. >> thank you very much, mr. chair. mr. secretary, great to see you. let me start out by saying thank you so much for the time. you came to our congressional district, visited arsenal island between your home state and mind. we had an opportunity to host lock and dam there, which is lock and dam 15. we took a little time to talk about the importance of inland water way infrastructure and then just yesterday i think the biden administration can take a victory lap, with the announcement that we have $829 million that are flowing through the navigation and ecosystem sustainability program which we call nesp for the locks and dams along the mississippi river. if you can take a little bit of time to talk about the impact that modernizing our inland waterways like those on the upper mississippi river will
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have on the rural agricultural economy. >> that was a great trip, and i appreciate you arranging it. i learned during that course that we can cut literally in half the time it takes for a barge with soybeans to travel the mississippi river by improving the lock and dam system. what does that mean? it means we get that product to port inexpensively and price it at export at a competitive price. our ability to compete in a very competitive circumstance for agricultural exports is absolutely directly connected to our advantage of our transportation system. and because of the infrastructure investment and jobs act, we'll now be in a position to continue to maintain that competitive edge and advantage. and i think that allows us to be confident that we're going to continue to do a lot in exports. i'm please that can we had a
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record year in agricultural exports last year and that's one of the reasons farm income is up and we expect and anticipate that we'll surpass that record this year but long term our ability to maintain that edge is directly because of those improvements. it's a very big deal that those resources will go to improve the lock and dam systems. >> we could not have been more excited with this announcement. we are so grateful to you and to the whole biden administration for seeing that this investment is so important, especially in the upper mississippi. you talked a little bit earlier with congresswoman hartzer's questions about renewable obligations. i want to drill down a little bit deeper there. it set standards for how much renewable fuel like ethanol, so important to a region like the one i represent, and how that will be required to be blended with gasoline going forth.
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i was very happy to see that the 2022 renewable fuel standard was set at what we consider back on track as president biden promised with a $15 billion -- or i'm sorry, 15 billion gallon mandate. can you talk, mr. secretary, a little bit to the importance of this higher number for our family farmers in rural america? >> well, it's an industry that does three things. one, is supports stability and farm income for those producing corn and biodiesel soybeans. it increases job opportunities in rural areas. and it provides consumers choice and less expensive gas. and it's also beneficial to the environment. so there are actually four benefits to this industry. that's why it's important in the industry to have stability. and the stability comes not just in setting a number but in making sure that that number is real. and when you have waivers as was granted in the previous administration, that number was never real because you were
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seeing it dissipated by the granting of waivers. this epa basically said 65 waivers, not gonna grant them, not gonna approve them, the number we're giving you is a real number and you can count on it. i think the stability is going to be very helpful to this industry. >> yeah, those waivers, we like to characterize it as giving out candy on halloween. they were just given out so indiscriminately, it was so harmful for those who were in the ethanol business. thank you for getting those back on track. i have one other country, i'll hold off on that in honor of the time we have left. thank you so much, mr. secretary, we appreciate you being here. mr. chairman, i'll yield back the 22 seconds i have left. thank you. >> the gentlewoman, ms. schrier, is recognized for five minutes. ms. schrier, you may want to unmute. >> thank you.
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thank you, thank you very much, mr. chairman, and welcome back, mr. secretary. i want to focus mostly on the state of the tree fruit industry today. as you know, washington state is the nation's top producing state for apples, pears, and cherries, many of which are grown in my district, the eighth congressional district. i have heard from a lot of growers in my district lately about really the precarious state of the industry right now. trade wars and the resulting retaliatory tariffs in india and china continue to harm washington apple growers who export a third of their crop. for example, india was 120 millions market for washington. and last year, that fell 83%, to just $20 million. so growers really risk permanently losing access to these markets if our trade
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markets move. i guess my first just request, it's not even a question for you, is just to continue to work on supply chains and on trade so they can keep these export markets. also, growers in my district know firsthand the challenges of navigating climate change. and they had record heat this last summer. and tree fruit is a perennial crop. trees sequester carbon and tillage is not an issue. cover crops, you can't always use them, particularly with cherry trees, because they can spread little cherry disease. and so a lot of the traditional climate-friendly practices, they just don't apply to orchards. and so orchards in my district would love to participate and really take advantage of these climate-friendly, climate-supportive programs. current policy discussions focused on carbon markets and conservation programs may fall short of what's needed to really
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help them adopt fairly costly practices that will further reduce the industry's carbon footprint. so my first question, secretary vilsack, is just, as you're thinking about different types of farms and having the farmers at the table, what specific steps is usda taking to ensure that perennial crops, orchards, are not left behind in these efforts? >> in the climate smart agriculture initiative we're working on, we're essentially reaching out to producers of all types and basically saying come to us with a pilot, come to us with a demonstration project that you believe will make an impact in terms of the industry and in terms of climate and let us figure out how we can help finance that activity on the farm with a large enough group of farmers that we can get data and information that would allow us to create that climate smart commodity i referred to earlier.
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so there's nothing to -- there's nothing restricting the ability of the tree fruit industry from coming together with a program that is specifically designed to meet their needs, to do what they can do in terms of a carbon footprint and come to us with an application for resources to be able to fund that. and then we would partner with a land grant university or other entity that would allow us to collect the data and the information that would establish the standards so that when they begin to export or sell domestically, they're in a position to say to their customer this is a sustainably produced product and here is the proof and the reason for it. i would encourage them to apply. >> if you wouldn't mind, i would love to just highlight supply chain. i talked about getting our goods overseas, but i was just at a dairy in my district and they're having a lot of trouble getting
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penicillin and other treatments for their cows. i wanted to point out the supply chain in the other direction and having a diversified source for things like the medications that dairy farmers need for their cows. and then i have just a few seconds remaining, but i wanted to note, i've heard a lot from my colleagues about the lack of people in jobs and attributing blame. i'll tell you that i've spent a lot of time with the business community and the farming community, and i have heard loud and clear from both that we need to take a look at our immigration policy and that they attribute a lot of their inability to find workers to the lack of immigration. so thank you very much, mr. secretary. i yield back. >> i couldn't agree more on the immigration issue. fix the system. >> the gentleman from iow is recognized for five minutes.
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>> thank you, mr. chairman and ranking member, and secretary vilsack, great to see someone from iowa in your position. earlier this month the usda announced an action plan for a fair, more competitive meat supply chain, four core strategies, the action plan includes increasing transparency in the cattle market. mr. secretary, can you expound on this core strategy and what we may expect from the administration? >> i think it has to do, as you well know, with transparency, more transparency in terms of the market itself. we have too few cash transactions in the market. so it's very difficult to determine when you have a cash transaction, whether you're getting a fair price or not. to the extent we can get more data, more transparency, that's incredibly important. the other aspect of transparency is when there is a contracting relationship between a producer and a processor, that there is a very specific understanding of exactly what this agreement calls for and what it requires.
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and that's one of the reasons why we're looking at ways in which we can create more transparency in contracting terms so that people understand and appreciate what's a fair contract and what may not be quite fair to the producer. >> i'm glad to hear that. i would love to work with you on that. pivoting to broadband, i have a question about the reconnect program. as you know, iowa has the most community-basd broadband providers of any state in the country and they have been working tirelessly to ensure iowa has a robust fiber connection. however it's my connection that the criteria for the third round of the reconnect program puts the providers at a 15-point disadvantage on grant applications because their companies are local governments, nonprofits and cooperatives. i find that really concerning. mr. secretary, these are local, family-owned commercial companies that are providing us service to rural iowa. will you, based on your track record of serving rural america,
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will you look into this concern and consider revising this new policy? >> i'm happy to look into it, congressman, but i would say there are a number of criteria here that would potentially play to the advantage of the companies you've mentioned. the rural location of the company, the economic need of a particular area of iowa, the fact that affordable service, the price that's being paid, the opportunity to serve vulnerable populations, with the senior population in iowa being fairly significant. so i think there are ways to offset what you may perceive to be a disadvantage with one criteria with advantages that play to the strengths of iowa. >> thank you, mr. secretary. i would simply say this, you have private sector companies now competing with government, i think that's very wrong. these private sector companies want to do a great job, they're getting pushed out by government. >> congressman, wait a minute. what about cooperatives? you don't want us to do business
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with them? >> i tend to agree. quick question for you. a few months ago the fsis announced a trial company for a line inspection system to increase line speeds. why has fsis not approved any applications yet? the longer fsis waits the more harm is caused to industry. can you expound on that? >> they're in the process of making sure that working with our partners at osha that the worker safety requirements of the waiver are valid and strong enough and that there is a way of providing appropriate oversight because we want that balance, as i said earlier, between worker safety, the ability to process a number of hogs, and the profit for producers. i don't think we should have to pit one against the other. i think we have to figure out a way to have all three. and i think this waiver process allows all three to take place. so i'm encouraged that we're going to see progress there.
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>> okay. just turning to trade a minute, mr. secretary, what is usda doing to encourage the pursuit of new trade negotiations, particularly across asia, to remove trade barriers in the u.s.? currently we don't have an undersecretary. what are we doing in asia and are we going to hire another secretary of trade? >> there is an individual that's going through the vetting process right now, and i'm hopeful that that concludes very soon. in the meantime, we have a crack team that is working and operating on trade. we've had some progress and some efforts here. mention was made to the dairy industry and the canadian decision. india opening up pork opportunities. vietnam reducing their tariffs. we're trying to reestablish trust within trade and for trade and about trade in america. i think there are a lot of folks out there that feel that trade has disadvantage to the united states. we're beginning to build trust
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by focusing on enforcement of any trade agreement, that's why we're putting pressure on china to live up to its agreements as well. >> i yield back, thank you. >> the gentlewoman from the u.s. virgin islands, ms. plaskett, also chair of the subcommittee on biotechnology, horticulture, and research, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman, for providing this discussion with the secretary of agriculture. i believe this is so timely as we move into hearings regarding the farm bill. and thank you, mr. secretary, for your support of farmers, ranchers, and food systems in the united states. i wanted to ask you, you have mentioned quite often in your discussion and testimony three phrases that you have discussed.
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[ inaudible ], consolidated, and fragile. of course we understand the fragile portion of that. and you've also given us some highlights about the colleges that's occurring with big business. but could you elaborate a little just for my own edification, i was really intrigued by those three words, and descriptions, of the agriculture department, what you meant by rigid. >> well, i mentioned earlier there's a shift in consumption patterns in the united states post-pandemic. pre-pandemic, 50% of our food was consumed outside the home. 50% in the home. and we actually have now seen about a 60/40 split between 40% restaurants, 60% at home. the rigid nature of packaging, of the way in which the food processing industry had basically gotten comfortable with that ratio, gotten comfortable with the supply chains that fed that ratio, now a bit of disruption. the same thing is happening also
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on schools, where individual companies that were distributing to schools for whatever reason believe there's better opportunity someplace else and now they are beginning to shift, and that shift has created a great deal of frustration and stress on the part of nutrition officials in schools. so it's the rigidity, the ability to transition from one consumption pattern to another consumption pattern. it's not easy, the transition has not been easy. that's the reason we have some of the challenges we have today. we're going to work through them, we'll try to provide more flexibility in our system. and part of that -- i'm sorry, part of it is having a local and regional food system that complements that more rigid national distribution system, a complementary system is necessary. >> thank you. i wanted to move on to the microgrants for food security programs in u.s. territories. as you heard, i represent the virgin islands.
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and of course we are the noncontiguous united states, that is u.s. territories along with hawaii and alaska, have been provided through the agricultural improvement act of 2018 a new program to provide microgrants through small scale gardening, herding, and livestock operations. can you speak to the success of this program as we approach the next farm bill? has the program been successful at reducing food insecurity and developing local food systems in these communities? is there an increase in authorization amount currently at 10 million across all ten eligible jurisdictions warranted as we consider the next farm bill? >> i think anything and everything we can do to create the capacity of local and regional food systems to be structured and created is beneficial. it's beneficial in terms of addressing food insecurity and nutrition insecurity. it's beneficial in terms of job creation.
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it's beneficial in terms of community -- sense of community and a connection that people have with their food supply and an appreciation for those who produce it. so anything we can do to help create that structure, because in addition, by doing it, you create a much more resilient and less rigid food system than we have in the country today. >> that's the intent of the program, but if you could have your staff get back to me as to whether or not they've seen any quantifiable difference in the food security and issues that those territories have, i would appreciate it. and in my last remaining time, the renewable energy in the virgin islands and puerto rico, as you know, the viability and sustainability of energy in the u.s. virgin islands and puerto rico is of the utmost importance for the wellbeing of our rural communities. so much of our area is in fact rural. energy costs on our islands are higher than anywhere in the country. and our geographic locations
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leave us vulnerable to climate change but also provide opportunities for adaption of innovation and resources. congressman ted lieu and i have introduced the renewable energy for those islands to create a small new grant program within the agriculture department which grants may be awarded to nonprofits to facilitate projects. can you provide any perspective on the soundness -- >> the lady's time has expired. however, mr. secretary, you may respond. >> i'll have our staff reach back out to the congresswoman's staff to provide any additional information in response to that question. >> the gentlelady from illinois, ms. miller, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you. mr. secretary, a consistent concern from my fellow farmers has to do with the skyrocketing costs of critical inputs like
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fertilizer. we've seen a dramatic growth in fertilizer prices. potash is up 120%. fertilizer is an essential input for farmers. without fertilizer, crop yields and productivity would be significantly reduced. my constituents don't want to see yield loss at a time when commodity prices are high. would you please tell me what the usda is doing to address these issues that threaten especially small family farms? >> it's a challenge, because of the nature of what's causing this disruption. part of it has to do with global demand. part of it has to do with decisions made by other countries to prevent resources from coming to the u.s. i think first and foremost we need to expand our own capacity. secondly, we need to make sure that we're using fertilizer appropriately and wisely. i was recently at iowa state
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university where producers, farmers who were working with the university and with a sensor program, they have determined that potentially 30% of the corn acres currently in iowa that are utilizing fertilizer probably don't need as much or any fertilizer. so i think encouraging precision agricultural to ensure inputs are wisely done. finally, figuring out ways in which we can create vehicles that will compensate farmers if in fact they decide to apply less. so we have this split nitrogen crop insurance program now that essentially says if you only apply nitrogen once during the year as opposed to twice if you have a crop reduction, then there's crop insurance that can protect you against that reduction. so i think there are a multitude of strategies here to try to address the longer term issue. in the short term, i think we're going to try to focus on
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precision agriculture and making sure we use what resources we have wisely. >> thank you, mr. secretary. i can tell you that time is of the essence here and we do need to address the root causes of the supply chain crisis and the energy crisis created by the biden administration. mr. secretary, my constituents are also concerned the biden administration is turning its back on farmers in the biofuels industry after pushing the green new deal policies that promote electric vehicles with batteries made in china, i'm concerned that president biden is not supporting renewable fuels like ethanol. so my question for you is, will you commit to supporting biofuels like ethanol which are crucial to corn growers in rural iowa? >> congresswoman, i don't have to commit. we're doing that. i have 800 million reasons we're doing that. $800 million provided the biofuel industry in terms of support during the pandemic, as well as $100 million to expand
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access to higher blends, the ability to have consumers have access to higher blends. 65 waivers that might have been granted in the trump administration that were denied by the cpa. a record amount of volume for 2022 under the rfs. the grand challenge in aviation fuel to create a 36 billion gallon industry of 100% drop of biofuel in our aviation industry has been launched by this administration. so i think it is very unfair to suggest that this administration has not been supportive of the biofuel industry. >> well, the biden administration's effort to push electric vehicles with batteries made in china is extremely concerning to me and my constituents. >> well -- >> mr. secretary, i recently introduced a bill, the national security moratorium on foreign purchases of u.s. land act which would prohibit china and other adversarial nations from buying american farmland. right now there are more than 500,000 acres of farmland in illinois totaling 4.1 billion
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that are foreign-owned. this is a substantial national security and economic issue for our nation. could you please tell me your position on the chinese communist party buying u.s. farmland? >> i'm happy to take a look at what you're proposing, and i also know that there are many state statutes that prevent foreign ownership of land. obviously my goal here in the united states is to make sure that we make land access available to our own citizens and that our own citizens are able to afford and purchase land. we have a fairly significant issue in terms of land access for a lot of farmers and we want to make sure we address that issue in very positive way. >> [ inaudible ] to disrupt -- excuse me. china is seeking to prolong the supply chain crisis we're facing. are you saying you'll commit to doing everything in your power to prevent adversarial nations from dominating our supply chain? >> the lady's time has expired. however, mr. secretary, you can briefly answer.
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>> sure. obviously we're going to make sure we're going to protect americans' capacity to own farmland. we're also going to make sure we continue to figure out ways to walk the fine line with our -- with folks in china, given the fact that they are our number one customer for agricultural products. the exports to china, when they were disrupted during the trump trade war, caused significant decline in commodity prices. we've seen better commodity prices in the last year which is good news for farmers. >> the gentleman from california, mr. khanna, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, chairman scott. thank you, secretary vilsack, for your leadership. i have said to the white house and to many of my colleagues that i believe there's no one, frankly, in our party or our country who cares more or knows more about rural america.
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your voice is sorely needed in many of our current debates in congress. let me ask you this. the administration now comes and says we're going to get high speed internet to rural america. it seems like we actually finally have done something about it, passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill. could you talk about what that means and usda's role and how you see this being transformational in actually getting high speed internet in places that don't have them? >> congressman, i think you're absolutely right. the infrastructure bill basically provided this, a significant amount of resources for the expansion of broadband and meaningful broadband access. so our focus at usda is on meaningful access. why is that important? it's important to farmers because they're going to continue to embrace precision agriculture. every piece of ground will be
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analyzed. remote, distance learning requires broadband. the need for telemedicine, i've been to clinics, i've been to hospitals who absolutely need these in rural areas to access expert assistance and help for their patients, that requires rural broadband. small business wants to expand their opportunities beyond the communities they're located in to the world. that requires broadband access. there are multiple reasons this is incredibly important for rural america. we cannot let rural america be left behind here. the resources you all have provided, the department of commerce, the fcc, and us, we're going to make sure these resources are put to use so that folks regardless of where they live, regardless of their zip code, have access to this important technology. >> that's wonderful to hear. could you also talk a little bit, i know you had a question about biofuels, i know you've long championed the vision of
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biomanufacturing. and all of the prospects that that can mean for jobs in rural communities and states across the midwest. could you speak a little bit about what the department of agricultural is doing and what more congress can do to support biomanufacturing? >> one of the most important appropriations in that infrastructure bill that's really important in the scheme of things is the money you provided to the department of agriculture to look at the conversion of agricultural waste into a variety of products. the ability to convert agricultural waste not just into fuel but also into chemicals and materials and fabrics and fibers and energy, all of which creates that circular economy, creates new income sources for farmers. it creates the ability to avoid some of the environmental challenges that we have with some of our industries. i think there is a day when the
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issue of lagoons will be something that we talk about as having been in the past. that can be converted into a multitude of products. processing, manufacturing jobs can be created in rural places. additional income for farmers, more good paying jobs in rural areas, reviving the economy, creating a circular economy and reducing the impact on industry. rural america is ripe for this opportunity. those resources, albeit small, i think can create the template for how communities might be -- and states might be willing to embrace this and the farm policy might be able to encourage it. >> thank you. my final question for you, secretary vilsack, is not as much in your role as secretary but as someone who has dedicated your life to public service in the country. you've seen firsthand how divided we are in this country along party lines, between rural
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communities and urban centers. it's no secret that one party is winning in one area, another party is doing better in other areas. how do you think we can start to overcome some of the divides in this country as president biden aspires to do, to heal this country and bring it together? >> that's a really profound question and i wish i had a simple and profound answer. but i think it is community. i think it is understanding that the challenges we face as a country cannot be decided by a single individual or a single group. the challenges are so large, it requires a committed, united, communal effort. and that's why it's unfortunate to see the division that's making it harder to do that. >> the gentleman from nebraska, mr. bacon, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman.
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i had to step out for votes so i missed a few of these questions. mr. secretary, thank you for being here. my first question deals with the foot-and-mouth disease. in the 115th congress we were given an approximately three-year timeline to make it operational. i would like to have an update on how we're doing on the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine. i hope you have good news. >> significant progress, over $27 million has been invested. we will continue to provide investments into that very, very important vaccine. and i would say that that's not the only important vaccine we're working on. we're also working on a vaccine for african swine fever. those two vaccines incredibly important in being able to protect our livestock industry. >> three years ago we wouldn't have been able to respond well to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. would you say we are today, that we would be able to respond with the addition of this vaccine bank? >> i think we are in better shape than we were a year ago. i think we're in better shape
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than we were two years ago. the reality is i think we'll be in better shape next year than we are today. >> thank you. as you mentioned, the african swine fever, i read a report that there are indications of african swine fever in europe this past week. how are we -- where are we at with our vaccine development? do you think we're 50% there, 60? hopefully -- i know it's a more complicated disease. obviously it would be a problem if it ever gets here. >> there are four or five patented vaccines that have been developed today at u.s. facilities. there are a couple of vaccines that i think are incredibly promising. i believe there's some consideration to the possibility of having some pilots in some asian countries that have been suffering from african swine fever, to determine the effectiveness of these vaccines. i think we've made progress. having said that, the reality is, we haven't figured it out yet. we haven't solved it yet. and so we have to make sure it
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doesn't get into this country. so as a result of the haitian and dominican republic situation, we are aggressively promoting activities down in that part of the world to basically contain the situation and hopefully over time correct it, making sure that we do everything we can in puerto rico to prevent anything from coming into the mainland, working with customs to make sure the right questions are being asked at the border, increasing communication in puerto rico and areas where there may be potential issues in terms of folks coming into the mainland from those areas, making sure they're sensitive to all this. we're doing everything we possibly can under the circumstances to address this as aggressively as we can. but it's not easy. >> thank you, mr. secretary. on the transition in trade, if i may, nebraska is an export state, just like iowa.
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we didn't really hear from president biden until november, i sure hope it's a priority for this administration. obviously it's huge for the midwest, corn, soybeans, pork, meat, it's our bread and butter financially, for the economic health of both our states. i just wanted your assurance that the administration is pushing trade. >> there is a commitment to trade and it starts with enforcing the trade agreements we have so that people can rebuild the trust in the concept of trade and trading relationships. let's talk about china. they are $16 billion short of their phase 1 trade responsibilities from a purchasing perspective. $13 billion in the first year, $3 billion last year. we have yet to see where things will be in 2022.
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there are seven major issues on the biotech or on the sanitary side of the equation. biotech approvals, ttgs, ethanol, pork, issues -- hormones in beef, that have not yet been resolved to the satisfaction of the agreement. we're pushing on both those aspects, more purchases, completing the sanitary requirements of that agreement. >> i yield back the balance of my time. thank you for the answers to the questions, mr. secretary. thank you. >> the gentleman from california is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. welcome, secretary vilsack. as you know, santa barbara and san obispo counties are home to a wide array of specialty crop
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production. shipping delays and continuing labor shortages have caused supply chain disruptions which are amplified by the perishable nature of the fresh fruits and vegetables grown in my district. the pandemic has shown us the high demand for getting fresh and nutritious produce to hungry americans. secretary vilsack, is the usda taking any steps to ensure its agriculture market service, ams, commodity purchase for domestic food programs include an increased amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in an effort to better meet nutritional guidelines? >> the answer is yes. in a recently announced flexible temporary food assistance emergency program, tfaep, we advocated $400 million for purchases from local and regional food distributors with the understanding that they were to provide an opportunity for fresh fruit and produce to be
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part of those purchases. we've also provided school districts with additional resources with the same directive and the same opportunity for using those additional resources for purchasing especially crops. so that is absolutely one of the priorities and one of the areas that we're focused on. >> thank you. as you know, labor shortages have continued to be an issue and have been part of many of our discussions regarding agriculture. i've met with many of my constituents and had discussions about labor. the farm modernization act is in the senate. can you talk about what the biden administration is doing to advance this important legislation and on a related note, would you elaborate on the usda's efforts to conduct research on machinezation
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technologies which could help alleviate labor shortages for specialty crop growers and at the same time improve conditions for farm workers? >> i know there is research at land grant universities that we are funding in terms of robotics and the ability of the capacity of robotics to sense when food is able to be harvested. disappointed obviously in the fact that the parliamentarian in the senate did not allow for the inclusion of the farm worker modernization act in the build back better legislation that's currently before the senate. i think there is still an opportunity and a hope that enough -- there's enough bipartisan support to get this passed. it is absolutely vital. it's absolutely essential. and i would say it's going to require some political courage on the part of folks to stand up to those who want to use immigration as a political wedge issue. the time for that is over. the time for -- especially with labor shortages. i've heard it here today.
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one of the answers to labor shortages is having a working immigration system. and it requires i think a bipartisan effort and hopefully there are enough people of courage and conviction in the united states senate to get this done. it's long overdue. >> well-said. thank you. the consolidated appropriations act of 2021 included important language extending s.n.a.p. eligibility to college students who are eligible for work study and those who have an expected family contribution of zero. however, this flexibility is not permanent and i'm concerned about the looming cliff that participating college students may ultimately face. how will the end of this provision impact food insecurity among college students? >> at the present time, because of the extension of the public health emergency, that opportunity still exists for college students. but, you know, congressman, i think one of the things we have to do, i think we have to begin
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educating people around the country, who these college students are and why they may be slightly different than the college students of a time when i figure to school and perhaps when you went to school. there's a significant difference in the population of people going to school with a significant amount of individual challenges that create food insecurity among those young people. and that's one of the reasons why, looking at the s.n.a.p. program and adjustments to the s.n.a.p. program may make some sense given the nature and the breakdown of college students today, which is really different. they're single parents. there are young people who are sort of disconnected from families. there's a variety of challenges these young people face. and i think we have to do a better job of educating folks about precisely who these people are. >> thank you very much. my time is up. i yield back. >> the gentlelady from florida is now recognized for five minutes.
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>> thank you, chairman scott. thank you to secretary vilsack. i appreciate your time here today. i've got a litany of questions, i'm going to jump right into them. mr. secretary, as you know, florida is a heavy fluid milk state. our farms are much larger than many areas of the country, very strong class 1 production. now, this is in regard to the volatility assistance program. now, when the program was instituted, it was very welcome help and much appreciated. but the 5 million pound per producer cap which was instituted solely at the discretion of the administration will have the effect of significantly limiting reebtsz reimburses to many of my producers. keep in mind these are family operations, by and large. now, my colleague, representative lawson and i, we are working in a bipartisan way to try to solve this problem, to secure additional funding for this program. we actually sent you a letter back in october, have not
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received a response. so this is a really important issue. i know to many of our producers across the state of florida. but i know this is important to you as well. so i would like to first ask, as we work through this, will you commit to working with us to make sure that this funding helps to close the gap for many of our producers who were hit very badly by the 2020 losses? >> i'm happy to work on this issue. i think we structured the program so it provided help to the farmers most disadvantaged by the way in which the market was adjusted and adapted to the food box programs and other challenges during the pandemic. we're obviously looking for ways in which we can provide help and assistance. but i'm not going to -- i'm not going to be -- i'm not going to take -- i'm not going to apologize, if you will, for the 5 million pound threshold because it was designed for those very small and mid-sized
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area operations to benefit. we have other things that provided help and assistance to the dairy industry, not the least of which is the supplemental dairy margin protection program and the restructuring of that, pretty important to the dairy industry as well. >> and mr. secretary, i understand, i mean, i understand where it was targeted at. we sustained millions, millions in losses. and again, these are family operations, these aren't major corporate entities. florida, given the class 1 milk market we're in, we sustained a unique situation in florida. but i do look forward to working with you on it. i'm going to redirect here now to another topic that i think is really important to highlight, and that's broadband. obviously we would like to see some better coordination to make sure there's not overbuilding because we have several areas of rural america that programs like reconnect would be beneficial in but because of the multiple programs through fcc as well as usda and others, we're seeing
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overbuilding as a real issue. but one of the topics that hasn't been touched on here today is, i would think that usd a would want to encourage broadband providers to participate in some of the preferences for round 3 of the reconnect program seem to work against that goal. for example, providers are awarded points in the application process for a, quote, unquote, commitment to net neutrality. that is actually the language in the program. now, mr. secretary, are you fully aware that the net neutrality rules were repealed by the fcc in 2017, correct? >> i also want to make sure folks have access to as much capacity and much opportunity to use the internet as possible, and that they shouldn't necessarily be restricted or confined to choices that the provider provides. and that's the reason here, to make sure that folks have the full range of capacities available with the internet.
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>> so what does the department plan to do to police the net neutrality? because this is usda, not fcc, if the provider is not living up to the obligations to commit to net neutrality, how does that benefit the providers of services in rural application? >> the point is to ensure in the application that there is a process and mechanism by which we can assure performance. and obviously there are resources being provided over a period of time. and in it turns out that the services are not what people were promised, then their recourse is to basically suggest a repayment of those resources. so at the end of the day, it's financially beneficial for folks to try to see if they can live up to the responsibilities in their application. if they don't want to use that, if they don't want to make that commitment, they don't have to. >> mr. secretary, i'm so sorry, i have to reclaim my time, i only have a few seconds left. at this point i would like to
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request a step by step plan from the department on its enforcement, how you define net neutrality, how that is contradictory to the fcc rules that were repealed in 2018. i would certainly appreciate a followup from you, mr. secretary. with that i yield back. >> thank you. the gentleman from california, mr. harter, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you so much, mr. chairman, and thank you, mr. secretary, for joining us this afternoon. i really appreciated your chance to connect and come to our district, even virtually, last year. one of the topics that we spent a lot of time discussing was with wildfires, and especially what the department's plan is going to be. and i appreciate the rollout this week of how the bipartisan infrastructure deal is going to inform some of the investments the department is going to make to make sure we hopefully can prevent some of these terrible
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fires we've seen over the last couple of years across the west. one of the challenges there is reimbursements, especially for our local fire departments. i was talking to one of the fire chiefs in our city of paterson recently, and he let me know that he had to wait over a year before he could get reimbursement from the forest service for one of the fires that they actually helped support. and this is becoming more and more common as these fires are getting bigger, we're having more local fire departments spend weeks, even months on this federal land, helping support the forest service. and it's not just the timing of the reimbursements that's often so long, it's the clarity of what exactly they're getting. i've talked to some of our fire departments who have told me that one document will say one amount and another document will say another and it's really hard for them to understand how much they're actually being reimbursed. i know there's cost sharing
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agreements that govern this. the gao recently published a report that noted all the ways in which this seems to be falling short and some of the challenges that have been inflicted on our fire departments. can you talk about the gao's concerns for these wildfires? >> i'm going to simplify the process a bit. i would say oftentimes the challenge is actually getting information and especially in california, getting information back from the local communities in terms of what they are seeking reimbursement for. so i think it's a two-way street here in terms of transparency and cooperation. but i do understand and appreciate that we need to speed up the process. and i think we're committed to doing that. if we are able to get the same level of cooperation from the local folks. >> that's great to hear. it just puts folks in a really
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tough spot especially when we have small fire departments, even volunteer fire departments, to have a huge portion of their budget be very unclear for months, even up to a year or longer. i'll be introducing legislation soon that suggests a couple of fixes to addressing this. i would love to get any comments from the department and you and your team, if there's things we could be doing at a legislative level to support. can i count on your support of that legislation to try and do what we can to address this issue? >> we'll be happy to provide you the technical assistance you need, congressman. >> thank you, i appreciate it. i also wanted to ask another question about the wildfire plan that came out this week, based on the bipartisan information developments we passed last year. one of the things that this plan is intended to do is to triple the number of acres of the 75 million acres over the next ten years, is my understanding, of trying to do more reduction of
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fuels to try to make sure these fires don't continue to be as bad as they are. what further investments if any do you think are necessary to try to get this wildfire challenge under control? >> i would say that consistency in funding is necessary. i think what you all have provided in the infrastructure investment and jobs act which the president supported and pushed is sufficient resources for the next couple of years. the question is whether or not we are in a position to have that same level of funding and support for years four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, because it will take a while to get the hazardous fuel reduction down, it will take a while to get the restoration work that needs to be done in areas already impacted by fire. consistency in funding would be how i would respond to your question. but it's great we have these resources. i know the forest service and
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department of interior will work very collaboratively with state and local folks to do as much work as possible. it's a 350% increase in the level of commitment and funding for hazardous fuel reduction. and it's going to be focused on the areas of highest risk to communities. so hopefully over time, people will begin to see fewer catastrophic fires and certainly less risk to people and property and to key forest areas. >> wonderful, thank you so much. >> the gentleman from alabama, mr. moore, is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. earlier in your response to mr. allen, you mentioned a court case regarding poultry feed and a pilot program similar
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the promise and commitment we've made to try to balance worker safety, plant speeds and profits for farmers. a federal judge in minneapolis basically ended the line speed effort and it did for one reason and one reason only. the trump administration did not include any consideration during the courseof the calculation of that rule about worker safety. they had data, they had information, they decided not to include it. it was a significant problem
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from a litigator standpoint. so there was no recourse here. so the recourse is, what do you do in the face of a federal judge that basically strikes the rule? you go back to the companies in the industry and say, how can we work through this. and that's what we did. and i think we're going to see these approvals in the very near future. on the poultry side, we have an existing case and we're asking the court to give us the opportunity to sort of remand the case back to the usda so that the usda is in a position to try to create the same kind of opportunity on the poultry side as on the pork side. and the point of this is to make sure we do a better job of balancing safety, profits and processing line speeds. >> thank you, mr. secretary. let me comment and i have to go. i've heard -- read a ton of
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poultry plans a long time, that's my background, and with the grocery store slowing production down, i think we'll begin to see american consumers look for poultry products on shelves. we need to be careful, we overregular stuff and it slows down the process. i've seen these plants. they seem to work fairly safely and the american consumer needs food on shelves and we don't need more regulations. thank you and my time is up. >> the gentlewoman from iowa, ms. saxony, is recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, chairman, and thank you, secretary vilsack, for being here. it's always good to be here with my former boss from central iowa and my constituents. i want to thank you and president biden for the announcement on resiliency in our cattle market. as you know, the transparency is
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critical for iowa-dependent cattle producers and the usda will go a heck of a long way to expand profit options for those folks. my first question, with regard to the announcement, it also made my bipartisan regulation that will help pricing between producers and actors for a regional minimum and the bill set up by former iowa congressman senator grassley. mr. vilsack, will giving producers more leverage and market information help address some of the issues we're seeing in our cattle markets? >> absolutely, congresswoman, because if you have greater transparency, then you have greater confidence that the market price that you're receiving at a particular point in time is a fair price. and i think there are many, many, many producers out there
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who feel they are not currently getting a fair price. >> thank you for helping us make that transparent for our iowa producers. another issue, and i'm sure you've been hearing this, but i've been hearing this as of late, is that iowa farmers are concerned about the high cost of fertilizer this season, in particular, of course, with our corn producers. they've seen the highest cost of fertilizer per acre for any commodity out there, and some farmers unfortunately are considering planting less this spring due to this increased cost. i know you've been watching this closely, mr. secretary, so i'm curious to see what will you think the reasons are for this volatility and what steps the usda and congress can take to address this issue. >> part of the reason is strong global demand and domestic demand. part of the reason is that we are reliant on outside sources for some of the fertilizer that we use, and those outside sources have made the decision to impose export controls which makes it difficult to get the
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supply into the u.s. part of the reason, i think, is we need to continue to accelerate significantly our efforts in precision agriculture so that the application of fertilizer is strategic and thoughtful. iowa state, i mentioned this earlier, iowa state has researched and suggested maybe as much as 30% of corn acres today may not require any fertilizer at all. if we can provide producers with censor materials and censor information and technology that will allow them to more accurately understand precisely where and how to utilize fertilizer, we could potentially lower those input costs. finally, i think it's important for people to take advantage of the program we recently announced and split the nitrogen program at risk management, the idea, potentially, to obtain some protection if you make the decision to split your nitrogen and apply it only once a year as opposed to twice a year. if there are crop reductions,
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maybe there is a way you can be compensated for those reductions. i think there is a multitude of things we need to be doing in the long term and the short term. folks need to take advantage of the tools that are available. >> i absolutely appreciate that, and as we continue to discuss this, further down the road, i want to talk more about precision agriculture as we roll this out as part of our infrastructure bill, but to make sure farmers have access to that precision agriculture, to make sure they have what they need to address that. thank you for the focus you have on cover crops. the creation of cover crops during the pandemic in 2021 helped with a better adoption of soil practices that can help turn agriculture into a greater solution. can you please elaborate for us the usda's plan to roll out a
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2022 cover crop program, and can you give us a sense of how many acres would be covered by that 2022 program, and how many acres did the usda enroll in the 2021 program sfwhl. >> -- as well? >> the 2021 was 25 million acres. the goal is to get to 30 million acres eventually. that's why we were excited about the soybean initiative with the soybean association and other groups, basically committing to doubling the level of cover crop aimers in the united states from roughly 15 million to 30 million by 2030. we continue to look at ways in which we can provide incentives. rmas can roll out the program for 2022 very shortly, and the hope is we'll see a reduction in crop insurance in exchange for
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maintenance of these important cover crops. in the meantime, we're also going to look for ways in which we can expand market opportunities for these cover crops. >> the gentlelady from minnesota, ms. fishback, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chair. mr. secretary, regarding your agency's most recent announcement on the availability of loans and grants for additional meat processing capacity, can you give us any additional detail regarding the details of the loans that will be available? for example, what will the guarantees be, the loan limits on those loans? >> the purpose of the loans is to provide low interest to financing so that folks who are interested in expanding or building new capacity are in a position to be able to get the capital necessary. we also should point out we have a commitment to expanding worker training in this area. we need more workers and we're
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going to try to work with community colleges and other partners to try to provide additional work force. >> well, and more directly, the question was about the loans, if there was any information. my office has been asking questions regarding the application process and timing. do you have anything to add in that regard? >> sure. the first tranche of resources will be grant resources, $150 million, and we hope to be able to get that framework out in the next several weeks, the idea being those shovel-ready programs and projects that are ready to go but just need a push, this will provide that push. then this summer we hope to put out both the $225 million of additional grant money as well as the $275 million in loans. in the meantime, there is also a loan guarantee program that's available that we announced several months ago that folks might take a look at as well. >> and, mr. secretary, how will
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this new program differ from the current dni program and the terms offering in administration? >> that is a loan guarantee program. this financing could very well be direct loans from usda. so there's that difference. there may be a guaranteed portion of it, too. we're basically getting input from the agency in terms of how to best structure this to meet the needs that are out there. >> thank you, mr. secretary. and it might be helpful if you kept congress informed about how that is going since we are in kind of that first direct line for constituents to call. but switching gears a little bit, you mentioned earlier, i believe it was in your opening comments or at least one of the very first questions, about keeping dollars in rural areas. with that in mind, i wanted to just ask about some of the renewable fuels. cutting the amount of renewable
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fuels that are blended increases the level of petroleum-based products in the marketplace, hampering our efforts to fight climate change. despite the fact that the administration is considering reducing the renewable volume obligation for bio fuels in 2020, 2021 and even 2022 ignoring congressional intent, what particular economic and climate impact would reducing bio blending have on farmers and rural communities throughout the u.s.? >> let's be clear about this, congresswoman. the 2022 number is a record amount. it's not a decrease, it's a record amount. and the 2021 numbers are basically reflecting the reality of the pandemic. so i think it's an honest set of numbers as opposed to what happened in the previous
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administration where numbers were set. they were accompanied by 65 waiver denials by the epa. these numbers are -- the 2022 historic number puts us on a trajectory of growth, and don't forget, the aviation biofuel opportunity which is enormous because it's double the size of the existing biofuel industry. there is a tremendous opportunity here. >> i just have a couple seconds. mr. secretary, i hope that you are committed to those biofuels because they are part of the solution for climate change, and they have been forgotten in this new climate change argument that people are making. so i want to make sure people understand that they are reducing emission and that our usda secretary is pushing for that for the farmers that are producing.
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thank you. with that i yield back. >> i'm confident that i am one of the most ardent proponents of biofuels anywhere in this country and have been for years, for decades. >> the gentlelady yields back. the gentleman from california, mr. panetta, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chair, and thank you for this hearing where we get to hear from the secretary of agriculture. mr. vilsack, thank you for being here today. i appreciate you showing up on capitol hill, showing up in our communities and basically during this long line of questions that you're getting, so thank you. also, as you may know, i hail from the central coast of california in the san juan valleys. please know you have an open invitation to come out and see our specialty crop producers and our farmers would love to hear from you out there, and i also
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want to appreciate your considering that going forward. as you know, with our specialty crops, mainly our issues -- our big issue is harvesting, therefore, it takes humans. obviously you know well that no technology is yet able to replace the human when it comes to picking a ripe, safe, clean, aesthetically pleasing strawberry and other fruits and vegetables. the fact we don't have immigration reform makes it difficult. i want to thank you for your personal efforts with the senate to go up there and push forward the modernization act. i know you've done that. i know you'll continue to do that. hopefully we can get that on some members, especially our republican senators', table so they can have something to help their states going forward, and that is immigration for
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agriculture. thank you for your efforts in that. i don't want to talk about the lack of immigration reform, but i want to pivot to what we're relying on, what our producers are relying on now and what they need to rely on in the future. obviously our domestic work force is shrinking and it's aging. therefore, the only game in town, or one of the few games in town is the h2a program. my producers are running into a couple difficulties. don't get me wrong, it's working okay, but there are some difficulties with it. one of them is they're experiencing delays dealing with the dol. i get it because of covid, pandemic, people not showing up to work. there is a lot of delays receiving their h2a visas. there are rejections up for petitions for minor errors and there is a lack of communication from the dol. my question is have you heard of this? are we engaging in the dol to actually make this work on the central coast?
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>> we're concerned with the h2a and we're ready to get this done quickly and expeditiously. it's a serious issue and we're aware of it. >> thank you. another thing we're experiencing is for workers to be vaccinated before they come into the country. is that something you'd be willing to work with us on to maybe find a compromise of what we can do? on the central coast we ran our own mass vaccine clinics with federally certified health clinics and our farmers and immigration workers getting shots in arms when they came on. are you willing to work with us on this mandate? >> i'm happy to work on this issue and learn more about it. >> thank you. obviously you've heard from my colleagues about machinization.
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please know myself and rodney davis were the ones that worked hard to get that language in the farm bill and know that coming up on the next farm bill you'll hear from us as well as other colleagues when it comes to machinization, obviously something that's needed. i want to commend you on the wildfire crisis. thank you, thank you, thank you. we don't just have a bounty, we have a lot of force out there on the central coast. one of the issues i'm hearing about is the lack of staffing. as you know, 80% of fires in our national forests are caused by humans. i think the way to do that is having more forest personnel on the ground. is your department working to address the critical staff shortages that our national forests are endurgenduring righ? >> we are, we are also looking at the compensation at the way
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we can increase firefighters to encourage more recruitment. all three of those things are being done. >> real quickly, my replant act was included about reforestation. do you know when those can be implemented. >> i know the president wants us to get that in the field as quickly as possible, on budget and on task. >> thank you, mr. secretary. >> the gentleman from new york, mr. jacobs, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you very much, mr. secretary, and thank you for being here today. it was a pleasure to talk with you a couple months ago on the phone, and i represent again western new york, past buffalo and rochester. i know you know that area fairly well having gone to college out this way. many of the questions i've had
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have already been asked, i just wanted to touch on one real quick just to reiterate how important in our region, as you know, right on the border with canada is the resolution of this agreement, the dispute, resolution ruling in our favor in regards to dairy and the sheriffs. i know you're going to work to make sure canada adheres to the ruling there so we can finally open up that market we've been trying to get into in canada for our dairy. but i want to just ask from your opening remarks i was very interested in the terminology of the circular economy you mentioned. i've not heard it that way, but it's something i really thought a lot about in an area like ours where we're trying to find ways to continue to have our agriculture sector live.
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what is called the circular economy, we have one ethanol plan in our area, which is fairly rare for our area, and the initiative for that 20 years ago in medina, it was that many of the corn producers there were just not able to survive because of the drop in market prices and other competitions. so this corn grower took it upon himself to start the ethanol plant. that plant is now servicing and expanding corn growing in that area. we also, in new york, filled a factory with hp hood where they make dairy creamers and other products with 250 jobs. but also the raw materials are coming from our dairy farmers to supply that. so my question to you is, how --
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in articulating the circular economy, what can we do to really make that a reality, more commonplace? i'd love your thoughts on that because i think it is critically important we do more of that in regions like mine to assure that farmers can have a thriving future moving forward. thank you. >> i think a commitment to more new and better markets. i know that sounds like something simple, but the reality is we've got to create different avenues, different ways in which farmers can benefit for whatever they do on their land. traditionally they grow crops, in some cases they feed crops to livestock and they sell the livestock. the question is what can we do to expand on those traditional ways by preserving them? so to the extent farmers can be paid for agricultural practices
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and create commodities, that's one avenue. to the extent, as you folks have figured out, they can add products to a value-added product whether it's a creamery that produces ice cream and cheese, that's another opportunity. i think there are untapped opportunities in terms of agricultural waste, understanding how you can essentially separate the components of agricultural waste. let me give you an example in the dairy industry. there is separation capacity to be able to separate solids from liquids, to reclaim from the liquids an organic material that can be used in organic farming. that's something that can be sold. you can take the rest of the liquids and reclaim it and utilize it for scarce water areas, that's important. you can take the balance, the solids, you can pelletize those
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solids and basically ship that fertilizer anywhere in the world or break it down even further and create component parts that can go into a chemical, a fabric, an energy product a wide variety of ways. we need to fund the research that allowed that to happen, we need to fund the capital resources that enable those kinds of activities to be located in rural communities. farmers can create job opportunities in rural areas that stays in the rural community, it doesn't travel a thousand miles away. >> thank you. i look forward to working with you on this great concept. >> the gentleman from florida, mr. lawson, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman, and thank you for having this meeting today. mr. vilsack, i want to make sure i understood what you were saying when congresswoman was
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talking about the joint effort on a bipartisan effort concerning dairy and farming. you said you wouldn't apologize for the way things were happening. maybe i didn't understand. can you elaborate on that, please? >> when the food box program was initiated, there was a significant amount of cheese that was purchased for the food box program. some folks made the decision, as a result of that, as they saw prices go up, they made the decision to sort of pull out of the federal marketing order which distorted the market, and the result was smaller producers ended up getting perhaps not the price they thought they would get or the distribution they thought they would get because of that disruption. this was designed to provide equity, if you will, by providing some resource to reimburse those smaller producers who were disproportionately impacted and affected by that different pricing mechanism.
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and so it's designed to provide that kind of assistance and help, so we set a threshold of 5 million pounds. that was designed to target the resources, target the assistance, target the help. >> so the joint letter that we sent in october, you all are still going to respond to it and see what more can usda do to help with the disparities that we have, am i correct? >> well, there are other programs that we instituted that may very well provide assistance and help to larger scale producers. the supplemental dairy program, for example, allows people to supplement their production levels so they can get more coverage and more assistance. to the extent they use high priced alfalfa as feed, there was a reduction for that, all of which places potential on the larger operation. so it's an effort to try to make sure we are balancing, as best we can, the help and assistance
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being provided to the people that need it the most. >> okay. thank you for that answer. and i want to say that, as you know, it continues to devastate farmers in the united states and especially in florida. since 2005, my home state has seen a decrease of 51% of its commercial land, and since 2016, an estimated 4.6 billion have been lost in the sunshine state. how can we, especially in the next farm bureau -- i might say because of this disease, a plan has been implemented. i call it afias.
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how do we set aside some congressional appropriation? is there something to do about the citrus interest and citrus disease? >> congressman, i think you need to continue to find research until we know how to solve this problem, because it's devastating. i know from my previous stint with the secretary, we saw increases in commitment over a period of years, and some potential strategies that may have merit. but i think you need to continue to fund and finance the research necessary to figure this out. >> okay. before my time runs out, has any progress been made on insurance because of the devastation we had from hurricanes? >> i'm not sure i understand your question. we're obviously, to the extent there are applications out for additional support and help as a
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result of timber loss, those will be processed. but if you're asking about timber harvesting that was impacted by the pandemic, those resources have been provided to, i think, several thousand timber haulers and harvesters. >> so a lot of people who use this, are they entitled to some of those funds? >> i'm not sure. i'll have to check and get back to you. >> the gentleman yields back. the gentleman from texas, mr. round, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman, and thank you, mr. vilsack. i want to thank you for providing relief for agriculture and specifically our farmers.
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it was much appreciated, so thank you very much for that. as you know, of course, we are facing a number of crises in our nation at the moment and it's certainly affecting our rural communities. when i speak with farmers and ranchers in my district throughout texas, they're concerned about labor shortages, made worse in part by the conditional vaccine mandates, policy breakdown that's leading to mass shortages. if you can find parts, they are hard to come by in part because of kind of the assault against natural gas that we've seen lately. if we don't fix it, it's going to lead to even more empty shelves at the grocery store, potentially, and even higher food prices. i haven't yet heard a farmer or rancher ask me if only i had an electric tractor, but that's what the hearing was about last
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week. what i do hear is they would like to get parts for the tractor they already do own, but i will say the biggest issue i hear from farmers and ranchers in south texas, by far what they're concerned about is the border. it's border security. i would like to submit a few articles for the record without objection, "farm progress threatens livelihood." "people find a baby crying on their land." texas ranchers say he and natives find bodies of migrants on their properties. this is becoming a daily thing in community to have to carry the burden for our border prices. that comes in the way of
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bailouts, water sources are compromised, vehicles are stolen, families do fear for their lives on their own property because of emboldened cartel, and it isn't uncommon to find drugs, or, tragically, dead migrants on their property. so on june 3rd of last year, the american farm bureau federation sent you, secretary mayorkas, secretary cullen a letter dealing -- talking about this. from what i can tell it was signed by all 50 states, farm bureau's as well today. they tell me they haven't received a response. can you commit to conveying the concerns of the ag community, certainly in texas, but this was signed by every state, to convey those concerns so the white
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house -- could you reply to this letter, and would you be able to work with our office in seeing what we can do to relieve the burden? again, they're having to personally pay for the burden of what is supposed to be a national security issue. >> congressman, first of all, i have personally communicated to 50 state presidents and the farm bureau about this issue. we do have roughly $3 million of equipped resources r that have been able to pay for the expenses of dean curry. that program has been set up. >> thank you. i appreciate that, and we'll figure out how to get that to the farmers and ranchers because they're not aware of it in our district. i would be happy to work with
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you on that. so thank you. thank you, thank you, thank you. one other issue a hear a lot about is the issue of the fsa offices and the staffing issues. again, they're trying to apply and they're having trouble finding employees who can help them. sometimes the offices are closed. sometimes they're filling out applications in the parking lot. the staff has said they're working on a ram called jab ber. when they're working remotely and any time they get a call, they have to use other staff. we haven't received that letter.
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can you reply to that, but can you speak to how many employees, those in state and around the country, in county usda offices have been left or forced to leave the usda? can you speak to how the usda is managing issues from the mandate? >> can i respond to that? >> yes, you may. >> first of all, we track and survey activities in our farm service agency offices to make sure the work is getting done, and we compare it to where things were relative to pre-pandemic at the same time. i have seen that survey, and it is indicated that we are on track to do the level of work that was done pre-pandemic. i mentioned earlier the tens of thousands of loans, billions of
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dollars our farm folks have gotten out of pandemic assistance. i tell you, they have done a remarkable job. they have done a remarkable job. i can tell you that at this point in time, roughly 600 people out of roughly 90,000 have failed to indicate whether they're vaccinated or are requesting an accommodation. 80% to 90% of folks have been vaccinated. the other folks are requesting an accommodation. we're going through those accommodation processes now. a number of them have been granted. in the meantime, all 88% of our work force and the 10% of our work force requesting accommodations, all of those people are working. those who are requesting accommodations have simply been asked to put a mask on to socially distance, to protect themselves and protect their coworkers and their families and
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communities. the 600 or so that failed to respond, they've been given several letters and opportunities to respond by either getting vaccinated or to request an accommodation. i think some of them have requested an accommodation and they've moved into that process, which is good. we have begun the first part of january a graduated level of suspension so that folks are given multiple opportunities to make a choice whether to seek an accommodation either for health reasons or for religious reasons or getting vaccinated. and at the end of the day, the work is getting done. you know, i just have nothing but admiration for the people that work for the farm service agency and for all the people that work at usda. i think they've done, on balance, a remarkable job in difficult circumstances. >> thank you, mr. secretary.
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the gentleman from arizona, mr. o'halloran, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chair, for holding this today. it was a pleasure spending time with you out in arizona on tuesday. i look forward to working with you on issues facing arizonans who are dealing with the impacts of wildfires, extreme drought, flooding, lack of food, and obviously making sure our friends in america survive the recent issues they face. the 10-year fire is now overdue, and i'm glad you are committed to this plan. i look forward to continuing to work closely with you and chief moore over the coming years to
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make sure this remains on track, that lives and livelihoods are protected. i also -- the potential to protect arizona's ecosystems, protecting wildflower if. i also appreciate you visiting a small meat supplier in arizona. while i appreciate the efforts to reduce cost, let's work with stakeholders to deliver real relief that americans preserve. as a staffing issue, i think law
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enforcement has filled in on one of those areas. >> i have always been a it. usda's connect program is a key footer that strategy. approximate there is clearly bipartisan support for this program. in this most recent round of applications, usda included areas that would service less than 10,000. >> the folks that go to the top of the list, if you will, are
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those that don't even have 23 speed, upload and download speeds. the 120 effort is meant to reflect that you can have broadband, but if we're not satisfied with that, there will come a time when they can't have broadband at all, on they'll find they can only download something for one person at a time, or they won't have agriculture available to their farmers. . . they have created the infrastructure that will allow for continued service as time goes on. but it's understood that those areas that are currently underserved, they'll go to the top of the list.
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it's worth it to try to balance with these resources. we had 181 projects, about a billion and a half, are all, decisions being made. that would be round 3, and hopefully rounds 4 and 5 come after that. >> it breaks my heart to see kids go hungry. as many as 13 million kids don't know where they're getting their next meal. we have to do better. i appreciate the actions you have taken to address hunger, especially the revaluation of the thrifty food program plan as dedicated -- directed by the bipartisan 2016 test, which i
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an we need this to reduce hunger in children. >> families are always facing a cliff. we also need to encourage states to use the opportunities of the pandemic, ebt program -- to provide assistance now but also in the summer. that's a key area, the summer program, so hopefully people get their plans on stake. the senator. thank you for being with us this morning. ly i asked about our offices in
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kaffer kaffer. i represent the third largest ag-producely. just two years ago china made a deal with the united states to to 2021. it feels like china sold america a bill of goods and that the biden administration has made no effort to rectify the situation. by refusing to acknowledge it. in response to our concerns, you said, but here's the deal with
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our chinese friends. they rely on what they came to purchase. that's why a trade representative continues to converge with the necessity of living totally and completely on the trade agreement, making that a deficit over the next several years. the next several years was never part of this two-year deal we're now at the end of. china said they would purchase a certain amount of ag products, and they didn't. my question is, i join farmers and ranchers in their concern about the trade deficit with china and with your remarks. what should i tl canadian farmers and ranchers? >> i think you forget we had a record set in 2013 when i was secretary before, and it was
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seizure passed this year in 2021, so it's expected that record will be broke this year. there are two record years, which is one of the reasons commodity prices across the board are significantly stronger ask higher than they were a year ago today. secondly, you can tell folks that there is an ongoing negotiation with giant. i don't know where your figures are coming from, but my figures say they are $16 billion light and they are also light on seven very important sanitary barriers. so we are putting china on notice that this is something we want them to live up to in the phase 1 agreement. we want our mexican friends to live up to usmca. we want our canadian friends to live up to usmca. so the next program in step here is to indicate our focus on trade enforcement. and that's what we're doing. that's why we took canada and used the usmca process to raise
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issues about the tariff quotas and they weren't fulfilling the responsibilities of usmca. it's not correct to suggest we haven't done anything. it is indeed correct to suggest we have asked the chinese to increase more, and obviously if they don't, then there are a wide variety of ways in which we can respond to that, and no doubt we will. >> the numbers i've seen, i think they're 16 billion short on the whole deal, 17 billion short on are purchasing the ag product. >> we did 16 billion on the ag products. >> okay. the other big issue i constantly hear from our producers is we've seen an increase in costs as we head into the spring. i know you were asked about this earlier and i think your
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response was we should tell producers to decrease the use of fertilizer. that's not going to cut it, but my producers have plans in place with crop rotations and such over the years. a lot of this comes to reducing import. what are we doing there? what do we tell farmers and how do we decrease prices as we see them get squeezed? >> we've been historically opposed to export controls and will continue to be opposed to export controls. number two, i think it is important and necessary as farmers learn more about precision agriculture, we're going to see farmers appreciate and understand the importance and opportunity to produce more with less. this is not a suggestion where you simply eliminate the utilization of fertilizer, this is a suggestion where you understand and appreciate where it needs to be applied, right place, right time, right amount. >> i agree.
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my producers have done that for a long, long time. they still lack fertilizer this year. >> the time for the gentleman has expired. the gentlewoman from minnesota, miss craig, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman, and mr. vilsack, thank you for being with us today to give us an update on the rural economy. i really appreciated you visiting the second district last year and secretary small also visited my district back in december. so thank you so much to the usda for the strong partnership. i've got a brief comment and three quick questions to cover with you today, and i don't have a lot of time so i'm going to move quickly through them. first a comment on risk management and the farm safety net. i was extremely glad to see the recent announcement that the risk management agency is adding haste to its crop insurance offering, which is going to help
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farmers manage as they invest in team practices. as usda continues to develop new programs, i want to reiterate my support for the farm programs that are already in place, including the federal crop insurance program. the farm safety net is critical for producers in my district, and i'll be working on that in the next farm bill. question for you, though, mr. secretary, first on biofuel. i want to thank you for support of the renewable fuels over the years. i know we both see the benefit of biofuels for family farmers as well as to meet our carbon reduction goal, which is why i'm pushing for the year-round sale of e-15. how do you see the administration utilizing biofuels like ethanol in achieving this goal, and how quickly can usda distribute the recently announced 100 million
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biofuel infrastructure? >> that answer will be received shortly. applications will be received soon and hopefully by the summer those moneys will be distributed. as far as e-15, we're working with our partners in the epa. i think they announced an effort to try to get input from folks in terms of how best to institute a statewide, or nationwide, rather, e-15 mandate or requirement or opportunity, however you want to phrase it. and i would say it's going to continue to play a critical role. this is a lot of conversation about electric cars, but the reality is we're still going to have, in the foreseeable future in my lifetime for sure, we're still going to have cars that require biofuel. hopefully over time we have airplanes and ships that require biofuel. in doing so, we will see an
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expanded biofuel. we will see the expansion of it, new opportunities, new jobs. i'm excited by the industry and i think this future is bright for the industry. >> thank you, mr. secretary. i know you have a lot of bipartisan support here in this zoom and the meeting room for your statement there. let's go back to the reason you were in minnesota here back in the summer, the question on drought relief. when the two of us spoke in august in minnesota, it was clear that you were thinking about how the usda could be better prepared to support farmers and ranchers in the upper midwest if we have those periods of extreme drought like we experienced this last year. what program changes is usda considering to address regional drought, and will you commit to address those solutions in the upcoming farm bill, and if you will, about 30 seconds. >> we're also focused on
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implementing the $10 million you all provided under whip plus. we're trying to do that in a thoughtful, creative and fast way. secondly, i would suggest as you put the farm bill together you understand the need for flexibility. you also need to understand regional differences as we develop programs. i know it's easier to do a nationwide program but the reality is we're so complicated in agriculture that we really need to create regional approaches that allow us to have some greater flexibility in the application of these programs. >> thank you so much. and finally, quickly, rural broadband. obviously i'm grateful for your continued advocacy. the reconnect program is a key part of that work, and i appreciate your focus on reconnect. after the october announcement about making $1.15 billion available through reconnect, i did hear, though, from a number of community-based rural broadband providers. can you briefly describe why
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usda decided to be prioritized, and are you open to welcoming in the committee that we have funding for all broadband providers? >> i think the challenge for these resources is making sure we provide opportunity in a balanced way, and that's what we attempted to do with our third tranche. and we learned from each application process what we need to focus on for the next application process. this is an ongoing iterative process and we learned, which is why we established some of the criteria for round 3. no doubt some of those criteria will be applied to round port. we'll listen, we'll learn and try to do the best job to make sure these resources do as much to help and assist in broadband as much as possible. >> the lady from louisiana, ms.
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ludlow, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, chairman scott. mr. secretary, as i travel around the fifth district, i continue to hear concerns from louisiana farmers about the many challenges facing the cattle industry. fertilizer prices have continued to climb to near record levels. this is a troublesome trend. rice is one of the main crops in my state. it has very particular infrastructure and equipment needs and it has an outside impact on the local economy. that's why i asked texas university to conduct a study to determine the economic impact using their 64 representative farms, including a grain farm located in my district. here's a copy of the study. this report found there would be a significant impact on the cost of input, those on the farm
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level bearing commodity. they average 62.04 per acre and our other crops are not far behind. further exacerbating the situation is the fact that rice farmers have not seen the increase in commodity price, much like other crops. compared to the 2020 prices reported by the economic research service, the current market price is static from last year, up to 4%. i would also point out that farm bill programs are not designed to meet these challenges. i sent you a letter and asked that you review the analysis in its entirety and figure out a way to decrease disruption.
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5 million was offered to fight disruption. it included a cost of materials, however, we have yet to see an implementation of these funds. mr. secretary, can you provide the committee an update on these funds and any help in impacting input cost. >> we are in the process of, i think, finalizing the opportunity to use a portion of the $500 million that you referred to to assist in dealing with some of the supply chain challenges that we face, particularly as it relates to exports, and we're looking forward to that. i have actually seen the study you alluded to. in fact, i looked at it last night in preparation for this hearing, and it's a challenge, there's no question about it. i think there are multiple ways to deal with this. there is no short term.
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we faced a similar situation, i think, back in 2014, 2015 with high fertilizer prices. i think we need to find a way we can be less dependent on outside sources for these materials so we don't face export controls that we're facing today, which is an issue. i think we obviously have to continue to address the supply chain challenges that we face to the extent that's contributing to it, additional port hours, truck drivers, things we discussed earlier today, and i think we have to continue to equip farmers with information and technology and a capacity to produce more with less. i think that's part of the challenge as well. there is no silver bullet. i wish there were, and if there were, we would certainly be on top of it. >> thank you for reviewing the study and i look forward to receiving your formal response to my letter and working with you to help alleviate the lasting effect of supply chain disruption. mr. chairman, i yield back the
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remainder of my time. >> the gentleman from california, mr. la massa, is now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman, appreciate the time here, and thank you, secretary, for your extensive time in this committee today. i appreciate the efforts. my understanding is i have to make a trip out west later today so i hope we can find a way to resolve some of california's water supply and water storage issues out there in that conversation. let me cover a couple things really fast in the beginning here. we have -- as have been mentioned by several other members here, but i feel obligated, too, payments need to be getting out to growers who are here especially about some of our voter california counties might have something to do with the staff issues in some of the
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counties on -- i don't know if it's covid related or what have you, but the dollars are just not getting out the door of the original from the wildfire the last couple years. it's been well over 100 days on that. please have your attention on that, and also as an aside, too, with our ag products that are stuck in containers, many ourl nut trade agreements we have. china and them. we have empty containers going back or sometimes ships with no containers on them. that's a real problem because our products need to be on those ships back and have some semblance of a balance of trade.
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so whatever push the usda can have with our other trade reps would be greatly appreciated because our almond growers, walnut growers are getting killed as the stuff is sitting on the docks and in storage, and it's going to carry over in the following years and just smash the price on those products. so sir, let me shift gears to our forestry issues now. you know, one fire, just one fire in my district was right at a million acres last year, called the dixie fire. i want to see if the forest service, we can press them to up their targets for timber work for the coming year. you see the agency harvesting in 2022 in any fashion a significant increase? how important is this, do you think, as far as our timber harvesting for rural economy, obviously, as we still need wood and paper products in this country. nice to have them domestically produced, and forest health.
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what do you think about those, sir? >> well, i would say that the ten-year plan that we announced earlier this week speaks to the opportunity for the forest service to do a lot more work and a lot of different areas across the board to make our forests healthier and more resilient. i think you can expect to anticipate much more work, and you're going to be focusing as well to make sure we reduce the risk to communities and people from these horrific fires and over time i think we can reduce the risk and size of these fires. it's going to take some time, but with these resources from the infrastructure bill, we're now in a position to be able to do much, much more. let me say on the export issue, we are addressing that, and i think in the very near future we'll have at least some opportunity to try to resolve this. i think the port of oakland is underutilized out there on the west coast, and i think there's an opportunity there for us to work in concert with that port to see if we can do something
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about those empty containers. on the program, those, as i mentioned earlier, we're trying to simplify the process so we can get resources out to folks as quickly as possible, using existing nap and rma data and/or livestock forage data to get payments to people hopefully in the spring and summer of this year. >> i appreciate that. it will be good to see if some of these dollars can get out there for the forestry we're talking about. we do have staffing issues it seems to come down to, whether it's fsa offices. we had forest service offices that don't bother to open up for months. things like christmas tree permits in some of my counties were difficult to get out the door with that. we have to look at staffing more and not have such a clamp down because of covid situation. so the -- on forestry, coming back to that because it's a big deal. we talk about that the most. the hazardous fuel reduction in
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the wildland urban areas can be -- we need commercial partners, and in the recent build back act, they were restricted from having commercial partners. is that something that we could be more aggressive on, in having -- there's not enough forest service time or personnel or dollars commercial users can help do that? >> a portion of the infrastructure bill does provide resources to state and local governments to be able to partner with us, so obviously, there will be opportunities there as well. >> not just government, i'm sorry, but with actual logging industry out there. >> i'm sorry. got the red light. >> the professional loggers in the commercial industry, they can do much more than the government can do. how come we can't partner with them more so? >> i think they will be engaged and have been engaged and will continue to be engaged because of the additional resources that are now available. some of these contracts have been pretty expensive, which has
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limited the amount of work we have been able to do. there's a whole other discussion about wood products and there's important opportunity there for us to expand significantly the use of wood in construction. >> thank you. the gentleman's time has expired. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> yes. before we adjourn today, i want to invite our ranking member to share any closing comments he may have. >> well, first of all, chairman, thank you to you, for this hearing and extending the invitation to the secretary and secretary, thank you for your leadership and being with us here today on capitol hill. and joining us. we appreciate your time and look forward to partnering with you on the important work ahead. i know it's a full plate when you look at the responsibilities of the department of agriculture. more than obviously the food is important, but it's so much more
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in the scope of what you do and what we do on this committee. and so that partnership i think is really important. i also want to extend my appreciation to your team and talented professionals at the department. i do want to also say specific thank you for fsis administrator paul kicker. he has been great at just in pennsylvania alone, you know, on this issue of protein processing of getting out with his team and i appreciate the visit to bell and evans chicken, that's poultry, and appreciate the visit to nicholas meats on the capital side. he's been hands-on and a great communicator and a great partner. in closing, i want to put a finer point on one issue. mr. secretary, there's a concern in congress when any secretary acts unilaterally with the ccc, and in fact, we have seen congress limit your powers of this office when this authority is abused. there have been limited details
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made available to us related to the climate program you have described, and i know you identified two sections specifically. and earlier in response to a question from representative scott, you stated you're very confident in your legal authority, and that's an assured statement giving the program seemingly is being created unilaterally and out of whole cloth, as we speak. i will stress this committee remains skeptical of the legal authority provided to you and your office under the ccc for this program. and looking at the enumerated powers in the act, we think no amount of mental gymnastics could get you there. that said, this committee would like more details from you on this program. but we also want to hear specifically from ogc on the exact language that provides you the authority under the charter act, and we want to hear from you prior to any funds being obligated. is that something i can get a commitment from? >> we'll be happy to share the details of this program with you, congressman.
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and also provide you with the basis upon which we believe this is an appropriate use of these resources. i will tell you, we're not putting anything at risk here in terms of our ability to do everything else that's important from the ccc. and i think, again, i would point out that major farm organizations have called upon us to do exactly what we're doing, in exactly the form we're doing it. and that's, you know, that's the farm bureau, it's major commodity groups. we're trying to be responsive to what we're hearing on the outside here. and look forward to working with you to get you to a place where you're a bit more comfortable with this. at the end of the day, we're going to have to do this. we have to get engaged in this. i tell you why we have to get engaged. to the extent we're concerned about export markets, my previous stint when i worked for the dairy industry, our competitors are absolutely going to make this a marketing advantage. we got to get there first. >> right.
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and i couldn't agree with you more. encourage you to check out the sustains act. we want to be there right there with you. we have already been working very aggressively in this space with bills. so i want to just thank you for that and thank you for your time today, mr. secretary, and for the commitment you and the professionals at the usda in preparation for the next farm bill. once again, thanks for holding this hearing. i yield back. >> thank you. as i bring this great and very informative hearing to a close today, i first want to thank you, secretary vilsack. your testimony was brilliant. it truly was. it was well prepared and well received on our end. and we thank you for that. this has been a four-hour hearing. and we appreciate your time and
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your commitment. and i'm just looking forward to continuing to work with you and the usda on all of the things that we have worked on. so thank you again, and god bless you. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> under the rules of the committee, the record of today's hearing will remain open for ten calendar days to receive additional material and supplementary written responses from the witnesses to any questions posed by
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