Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today said the Farm Bill will continue to play a major role in helping businesses create jobs in rural America. Today’s hearing, building on the twelve public hearings held in 2011, focused on rural development, bio-based manufacturing and Farm Bill energy initiatives. By focusing on streamlining, cutting red tape and making programs more accessible, rural towns are able to build and improve infrastructure and leverage the innovative spirit of small businesses that are critical to building and sustaining long-term economic growth.
“Bio-based manufacturing is a great example of new opportunities in rural America through innovative businesses that create good jobs,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. “Making new products out of agricultural materials creates new markets for farms and new jobs and opportunities in towns across the country. According to a recent Department of Agriculture study, the bio-based plastic and chemical products industry could create over 100,000 American jobs – and many in rural America. When we grow things here and make things here, we create jobs here.”
Chairwoman Stabenow highlighted energy as an area where growth potential exists in rural America, noting that Farm Bill energy programs are both spurring new, homegrown energy markets as well as keeping costs for farmers and other small businesses low.
“Farm Bill energy programs promote innovation by entrepreneurs and businesses small and large,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. “Secretary Vilsack and I got a chance to see this first-hand last August at the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race, where all of the cars are powered using American-made biofuels. But the energy title isn’t just about the next generation of biofuels. The most popular program is the Rural Energy for America Program, which helps producers reduce their energy costs through renewable or efficiency measures. This has created or saved more than 14,000 rural jobs.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also spoke to the strengths of the economic potential of farm energy programs and their impact on rural communities.
“The U.S. has the potential to produce more than a billion dry tons of biomass each year for the energy industry by mid-century, without impacting other farm and forestry products,” Vilsack said. “That would be enough to displace approximately 30 percent of our country’s present petroleum consumption. … Because biofuels, biomass, wind and solar rely primarily on farm, ranch, and forest lands, the potential for renewable energy development resides predominantly in our Nation’s rural regions. Certainly, renewable energy is an important source of jobs and economic growth in rural communities across the country.”
Michigan native Mathias J. McCauley, the Director of Regional Planning & Community Development for the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments in Traverse City, said rural development is essential to the overall economic health of the nation, and strengthening small towns bolsters efforts to promote economic prosperity everywhere.
“USDA Rural Development is a critical piece to the overall competitiveness of rural regions as we work to foster job growth, regional innovation, and economic prosperity,” McCauley said. “With USDA’s assistance over the decades, rural communities across the nation are now in a better position to pursue regional asset-based and innovation-focused development strategies that are resulting in new job and local wealth retention opportunities.”
Additional witnesses at the hearing included Dr. Florine P. Raitano, Immediate Past President, Rural Community Assistance Corp., Dillon, CO; Mr. Mark Rembert, Executive Director, Energize Clinton County (and Wilmington-Clinton County Chamber of Commerce), Wilmington, OH; Mr. Charles Fluharty, President and CEO, Rural Policy Research Institute; Research Professor, Truman School of Public Affairs, Columbia, MO; Mr. Steve Flick, Chairman of the Board, Show Me Energy Cooperative, Centerview, MO; Mr. Lee Edwards, President and CEO, Virent, Inc., Madison, WI; Mr. Bennie Hutchins, Energy Program Coordinator, Ag Energy Resources, LLC, Brookhaven, MS; and, Mr. William Greving, Sorghum Farmer, Prairie View, KS.