Opening Statement of Chairman Frank D. Lucas: Hearing to Review the State of the Rural Economy

Apr 3, 2014

Tamara Hinton, 202.225.0184

Thank you, Mr. Secretary for appearing before the Committee today.

I am pleased we can visit knowing that we have a five-year farm bill in place to provide certainty to our producers and consumers.  It was a long process to get to this point, but our efforts were well worth it and the Agricultural Act of 2014 is a product we can all be proud of.  We have a law that reduces spending, reforms policy, and yet still provides a safety net not only for the production of food and fiber, but also to ensure our fellow citizens have enough to eat.  

I appreciated the efforts of you and your team during the farm bill process, especially in those final days of negotiations. 

Right now, the committee is rightly focused on ensuring proper implementation of the Agricultural Act of 2014.  We will be watching these efforts closely.  Communications between your staff and committee staff have already begun and I was encouraged that you announced early that implementing livestock disaster assistance is a top priority.  Livestock producers have suffered through multiple years of drought and were operating for a long time without a safety net in place.

Many like to point to agriculture as a bright spot in our economy.  Relative to other economic indicators it has generally done well, but that well-being has not been evenly distributed across the entire sector and those that tout its success typically fail to discuss the costs of doing business.  Make no mistake: farming and ranching continue to be tremendously risky.  Look no farther than the varied weather patterns the whole country has experienced over the last few years.  Record droughts, blizzards, and floods have hurt the bottom line of farmers to say nothing of market volatility. 

We were mindful of these realities when we wrote the farm bill and we expect the same understanding as the law is implemented. 

Providing regulatory relief for our producers is another priority.  I am concerned about the administration’s regulatory initiatives that can harm the health of production agriculture and rural America.  These initiatives often, but not always, originate at other agencies by people who have no frame of reference for how farmers produce our nation’s food supply. 

The latest example of this disconnect is the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent proposed rule to redefine the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act.  Under this proposal, small streams and ditches would be regulated even if they are miles away from navigable waters, even if they are dry most of the time.  This is an expansion of power that defies common sense and puts the livelihoods of our agricultural producers in jeopardy. 

Further, the EPA has proposed or finalized more than 100 new greenhouse gas-related regulations exceeding 3,000 pages in the Federal Register.  These regulations impact everything from transportation to energy.  Agriculture relies heavily on both of those economic sectors so anything that negatively impacts them, negatively impacts us.  Ultimately, this represents an unprecedented expansion of regulatory control over the U.S. economy, as a whole, and the rural economy, specifically.  Today, I hope you will share with us your thoughts on some of the actions of the EPA and other agencies and their impact on production agriculture.

Closer to home, we recently learned from constituents that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which is jointly appointed and overseen by your agency and Health and Human Services, is venturing into areas like methods of food production.  This is a subject matter that is beyond the Advisory Committee’s scope and understanding and could affect regulations it is not even qualified to assess. 

Finally, mandatory country-of-origin labeling is another concern of this committee.  It is hard to think of a greater disappointment than our inability to address the economic dislocations that have already occurred, as well as those yet to come, associated with our flawed mandatory country-of-origin law.  It is well known that I, along with a majority of the House Agriculture Committee, support repeal of this onerous law, and we were hopeful the Senate would be willing to work with us to find a solution.  But the fact is the Senate refused to do that.  I remain worried that our economy faces $2 billion in retaliation that will lead to greater disruption in the livestock sector and the loss of countless jobs.  I hope you will pledge today to work with me to secure a real and lasting solution to this problem, which has existed for far too long.

Mr. Secretary, again thank you for being with us today. I look forward to your testimony.