Peterson Opening Remarks at Full Committee Hearing with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue

Feb 27, 2019

WASHINGTON (February 27, 2019) – House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota delivered the following remarks at the full committee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on “The State of the Rural Economy.”

[As prepared for delivery]

“Good morning and welcome to our witness, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. We’ve got plenty of ground to cover today, so I will be brief in my comments.

Mr. Secretary, I look forward to hearing your outlook for the farm economy in the coming year; your take on the implementation of the farm bill; an update on the overall health of the Department; and any other thoughts you’d like to share. Before that, I want to take a second to talk about money.

Your visits to the Committee over the last two years have come roughly at the same time as the White House’s call for billions in cuts to USDA programs. This year is no different. Just this week, the White House called for a 5 percent cut to non-defense spending. While that is concerning on its own, it’s compounded by your comments that this number may potentially be as high as 10 percent or higher. That worries a lot of us given the broad range of challenges confronting farmers, ranchers, rural communities and working families.

It’s worrisome, Mr. Secretary, because the situation hasn’t gotten any better in farm country. In our discussions the last few times you’ve been up here, I’ve sadly started my comments by pointing to the growing economic storm in farm country.

Incomes continue to decline, wins on trade have yet to materialize, credit and capital are becoming harder to obtain, and folks are deciding it’s easier to sell the farm and move to the city than to continue trying to grind out a living.

When it comes to dairy, I’m worried that folks are so soured on the old program that they’ll decide to hang it up before they give the new dairy provisions in this bill a chance. That’s a mistake, because the new Dairy Margin Coverage is specifically designed to give those smaller and medium-sized dairies the safety net they need. We need them to know that this program will help. But they’re snakebit, and it’s going to take persistent outreach to get them on board. I hope that’s a challenge you’re committed to tackling, Mr. Secretary. 

Beyond the dairy provisions, the farm bill helps provide resources to small communities for broadband connectivity, mental health services, and substance abuse prevention.

But what doesn’t help is taking an indiscriminate whack at funding for these and other programs in the midst of a farm economy like this one.

Now it’s my hope that you’ve got some better news to share—that you see some blue sky through these clouds. You’ve always given it to us straight, Mr. Secretary, and you’ve always been a fierce defender of the programs USDA is charged with administering. I appreciate that very much. I look forward to your comments and with that I recognize the distinguished ranking member from Texas for any remarks he would like to make.”