U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today commemorated the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 150th anniversary by highlighting the progress made over the last 150 years as well as the work that remains to be done to ensure that America’s agricultural economy can continue growing. Below is the Chairwoman’s floor statement.
“Mr. President, I rise today to congratulate the United States Department of Agriculture on 150 years of service to the people of America.
“On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln created the Bureau of Agriculture, and with it, America’s commitment to an abundant supply of food and fiber. Lincoln grew up on a farm, and he understood the long hours of hard-work that men and women like his parents spent working the land. And farming in those days was a very different proposition – much of the work was done by hand or animal labor. He rightly called it 'the People’s Department' because 90 percent of Americans at the time worked, like his folks, on farms.
“Lincoln created the USDA at a time of great change in agriculture. Machinery was being introduced that lessened the workload and made farming more efficient. Families were heading westward and expanding the frontier: It was only five days later that Lincoln signed another important law that would have a dramatic effect on the future of agriculture in this country: The Homestead Act. That same year, Lincoln would also sign the law creating the Transcontinental Railroad, as well as the Land Grant Colleges Act – which has special meaning for me as a Michigan State University graduate!
"But here’s the most amazing thing: he did all of this during some of the worst fighting of the Civil War.
"When he put pen to paper to create the Bureau of Agriculture, there had already been more than 100,000 casualties in the Civil War. He created all of these institutions -- that would have a lasting impact on this great nation -- at a time when many people wondered how long this nation could survive.
“150 years ago, in his address to Congress, Lincoln said, 'Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us in honor or dishonor to the last generation.'
“President Lincoln rose to the challenge. He saved the Union, and he created lasting institutions that are still with us and making a difference today.
“And if he could do all that, in the middle of the Civil War, with enemy troops camped just across the river… what challenge can’t we face today?
“In the Agriculture Committee, we came together last month to pass, with an overwhelming bipartisan vote, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, or the Farm Bill. This is a bill we pass every five years to renew America’s agriculture policy and to continue the important work of the Department of Agriculture.
“It is critical that we pass the Farm Bill before the current bill expires in September. We passed a very strong bill out of Committee, with real reforms that cut the deficit by $23 billion – and we did it in a bipartisan way.
“We evaluated every program, eliminated duplication, and streamlined programs to save taxpayers money while getting better results on the ground. And we did it in a bipartisan way.
“Change is never easy, but we came together because the Farm Bill is so important to the 16 million men and women whose jobs rely on American agriculture. They work hard every day producing the most affordable, healthy and abundant supply of food, fiber, and energy in the world.
“President Lincoln understood how important our food supply is – it feeds the nation, and can be the difference in times of war. The leadership and innovation of those 16 million Americans have made our nation the world’s leader in agriculture. With an ever-growing global population, our farmers are truly feeding the world. It is critical for our national security that we pass this Farm Bill to continue our leadership.
“It has been 150 years since President Lincoln created America’s commitment to agriculture, and we have come a long way since then. We have been through floods and famines, dust bowls and depressions. But we have also seen great advances as we have learned to overcome these challenges with better risk management, conservation practices, and a commitment to fighting hunger.
“Passing the Farm Bill will continue this great American success story.
“The 150th Anniversary of USDA’s creation is a great time to celebrate farmers and rural communities. It is also a strong reminder that we here in Congress need to do our jobs too and pass the farm bill soon. Our country’s future depends on it.”