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Chairman David Scott Opening Statement at Hearing “A 2022 Review of the Farm Bill: Dairy Provisions”

WASHINGTON House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott delivered the following statement at today's hearing “A 2022 Review of the Farm Bill: Dairy Provisions.”

[As prepared for delivery]

Good morning and thank you to our Committee members and witnesses for joining us today. Before we discuss the topic of today’s hearing, I would like to welcome Congresswoman Sharice Davids to the House Committee on Agriculture. Ms. Davids represents the Third District in Kansas and joins Mr. Mann as our second Member from the great state of Kansas. Welcome Ms. Davids.

Today’s hearing continues our review of the 2018 Farm Bill, as we analyze the dairy provisions and the impact they have had on dairy farmers. How appropriate it is that we hold this hearing in June, as we celebrate Dairy Month. I am pleased to welcome two panels today, a panel of USDA witnesses, and an industry panel. These two panels provide us with a depth of expertise to evaluate the dairy provisions of the farm bill.

A significant portion of today’s hearing will cover the dairy safety net for family farmers, which is an integral part of ensuring the consistent production and availability of dairy products. Contained within that safety net is Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC), a program that provides more comprehensive coverage to small and medium-sized farms than any program before it.

The creation of DMC was an important part of the 2018 Farm Bill, and it is vital that we understand if there are ways to further improve this tool so that it is working for farmers and the American people. I look forward to a productive conversation about programs, such as DMC, designed to give these farmers a safety net that works.

Nothing made the importance of this safety net more apparent than the COVID-19 pandemic. We saw during the early stages of the pandemic how shocks to labor and the supply chain—some of which persist today—impacted the ability of farmers to get their products to market. As market balances were disrupted, we were able to provide Pandemic Market Volatility Funds through USDA to our farmers.

However, COVID also raised the question of whether the Federal Milk Marketing Order System, which governs the pricing of milk, is the best fit for today’s world. We must listen to farmers and continue a dialogue with industry and USDA as we navigate that issue to identify the best approach to any changes moving forward.

Even as we’ve seen dairy prices rebound in 2022, there are several trends that are extremely troubling. The number of licensed U.S. dairy herds fell by more than half between 2002 and 2019, with an accelerating rate of decline in 2018 and 2019, even as milk production continued to grow. We are losing dairy farms every single day. Many of these are smaller farms, and while we have room for all sizes in the dairy industry, the loss of these smaller farms is having impacts across rural communities.

In that same vein, we must also pay attention to the needs of small farmers around the country. We were intentional in selecting witnesses for our stakeholder panel from multiple regions across the country. This will provide us with a diversity of views and can provide insight into recent developments, such as in the Northeast, where organic farmers have struggled to identify alternative markets after a major plant closed and faced debilitating transportation issues in trying to find new markets for their milk.

As I have said many times, I have a tremendous admiration for our farmers. And dairy faces a unique set of challenges, which is why the farm bill dairy provisions are so important. I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panels today about these programs, as well as opportunities to improve them.

With that, I’d now like to welcome the distinguished Ranking Member, the gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Thompson, for any opening remarks he would like to give.

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