Washington, DC – Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today said that innovation in American agriculture can help revolutionize global farming in order to successfully meet the needs of a growing and diverse world, but still faces many challenges to continue leading the world in productivity, innovation and sustainability. Her comments came during the first Farm Bill hearing, as the Committee prepares to reauthorize the legislation that sets agriculture policies every five years.
“Despite all of the economic and budget struggles over the last decade, agriculture has remained a bright spot: agriculture has continued to grow, farmers have innovated and become even more productive, and they have become even better stewards of our land and water resources,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. “And we are not only feeding the world because of that innovation, but we’re showing farmers in every corner of the world new strategies to be more productive themselves.”
Chairwoman Stabenow highlighted the strides agriculture has made in the past several decades noting that the average American farmer feeds an estimated 150 people.
“It’s easy to take our agriculture policies for granted – to assume that without them, things would work just the same as they do now,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. “But when we look back at history, we can only marvel at how far we have come. Today, people in the western edge of the Oklahoma panhandle are enduring the longest drought on record, with nearly 220 days without rain. That’s worse than the droughts experienced during the Dust Bowl. And yet we are not experiencing another Dust Bowl; the topsoil isn’t blowing away. That’s a testament to the good work our farmers and ranchers have done thanks to voluntary conservation efforts in the Farm Bill.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed the need for a strong Farm Bill by pointing to the recent weather-related disasters that have devastated many farms; highlighting the many risks and uncertainties farmers face.
“The risks that our farmers and ranchers take are significant,” Secretary Vilsack said. “One only needs to look at the past few months to see firsthand the tremendous challenges our producers face that are beyond their control. This spring, cool temperatures combined with above normal snowfall and excessive rainfall have delayed planting for spring crops and caused widespread flooding, especially along the Mississippi River. Over two million acres of cropland had been flooded, much of which continues to remain underwater.”
Michigan witness Barry Mumby, a third generation farmer, pressed on the importance of a strong safety net to protect against uncertainties, to allow farmers to manage risks while feeding a growing world.
“We need a safety net that buffers us from weather losses or unexpected financial meltdowns such as experienced in recent years,” Mumby said. “I believe that the U.S. farmer has realized that we have a moral obligation to be as productive as we can on every acre so that we can help feed the world. In 1990 there were about 5.3 billion people in the world to feed and now there nearly 7 billion.”
Additional witnesses included the Hon. Dan Glickman, Co-Chair of The Chicago Council’s Global Agricultural Development Initiative and former Secretary of Agriculture, Washington, DC; Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, Senior Vice President for Science and Knowledge, Conservation International, Alexandria, VA; Mr. Douglas DeVries, Senior Vice President, Global Marketing Services, Agriculture and Turf Division, Deere and Company, Moline, IL; and Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, H.E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy, the J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship and Professor of Applied Economics, Cornell University; and Professor of Agricultural Economics, Copenhagen University, Ithaca, NY.
Chairwoman Stabenow’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery, is below.
Opening Statement as Prepared for DeliveryChairwoman Debbie StabenowMay 26, 2011
The story of agriculture over the last 50 years is one of incredible productivity gains and impressive conservation achievements. Today, every one American farmer feeds an estimated 150 people. And despite all of the economic and budget struggles over the last decade, agriculture has remained a bright spot: we continue to innovate, farmers have become even more productive, and they have become even better stewards of our land and water resources. And we are not only feeding the world because of that innovation, but we’re showing farmers in every corner of the world new strategies to be more productive themselves.
Today, as we officially kick off the process for the 2012 Farm Bill, we are starting in a different spot than we have in the past. Instead of the usual starting discussion, where we talk about all the various Farm Bill programs, we are focusing today on the principles that are important for this discussion: the ability of American agriculture to feed the world, why that is critically important, how American agriculture can help the world better feed itself, and the risks and challenges that come with that: meeting the demands for better stewardship while producing more with limited resources.
We have some great witnesses who will testify this morning. Secretary Vilsack is here, one of our nation’s greatest advocates for agriculture, rural development, conservation, and innovative farming. Our second panel is made up of leading experts who will talk about the importance of getting the Farm Bill right for not only American producers, but for consumers throughout the world.
This first hearing of the 2012 Farm Bill is a great first down the long, deliberative road this committee will undertake over the next year as we work to craft a bill that effectively meets our principles and priorities – and that helps American agriculture continue to lead the world in productivity, innovation, and sustainability.
It’s easy to take our agriculture policies for granted – to assume that without them, things would work just the same as they do now. But when we look back at history, we can only marvel at how far we have come.
I’ll use a current example - Today, people in the western edge of the Oklahoma panhandle are enduring the longest drought on record, with nearly 220 days without rain. That’s worse than the droughts experienced during the Dust Bowl. And yet, today, there are no dust storms … the topsoil isn’t blowing away. That’s a testament to the good work our farmers and ranchers have done thanks to voluntary conservation efforts in the Farm Bill.
So as we get started with this hearing today, let’s remember the 150 people who have food on the table thanks to an American farmer. Let’s celebrate our successes, and recognize the challenges ahead. Let’s keep focused on the principles, not the programs, that the Farm Bill should accomplish. And let’s continue to work together to make sure that American agriculture remains prosperous and successful for years to come.