Skip to Content

Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway Committee on Agriculture Hearing: Agriculture & National Security: On-the-Ground Experiences of Former Military Leaders

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning, and welcome to today’s hearing. This week we celebrated America’s 240th birthday. As we reflect on the freedoms we enjoy at home, it’s important that we understand the role our military leaders—along with our farmers and ranchers—play in ensuring that we are safe and well fed.

Two of the pillars of our country’s national security have long been a strong military and sound agricultural policy. For decades, the United States has invested in transportation and infrastructure, agricultural research and innovation, and risk management tools for farmers, all of which have led to a vibrant and stable agricultural sector in the United States. When you combine that with the might of the U.S. military, the United States has long enjoyed relative peace and prosperity here at home.

In our latest hearing on this topic, one veteran-turned-farmer highlighted that roughly one percent of the nation defends the other 99 percent and, similarly, roughly one percent of the nation feeds the other 99 percent. In both cases, men and women are doing important work that few truly understand or fully appreciate. Sitting on the Armed Services Committee and now chairing the Agriculture Committee, I find myself in a unique position to highlight their work and to draw attention to the fact that a nation’s security is inextricably linked to its ability to both feed and defend its people.

While the United States has long invested in both agriculture and defense, that is not the case in many parts of the world. Today, we will hear from former military leaders who served in many places where agricultural development was not a priority, and they can speak to the tremendous instability that brings. They understand, perhaps better than any of us, how important it is for the U.S. to continue providing the tools that are necessary for our nation to be able to feed and clothe its people.

With that, I’d like to welcome Major General James R. Sholar, US Army Retired, Stillwater, OK. General Sholar served continuously for 39 years as a commissioned officer in the United States Army and Army Reserve. Additionally he spent 3 decades as a Professor of Agronomy and Extension Agronomist at Oklahoma State University. Currently, he serves as Executive Director of the Great Plains Canola Association and Executive Director of the Oklahoma Oilseed Commission.

Next, I would like to welcome Major General Darren G. Owens, US Army Retired, Bryan, TX. As a member of the Texas Army National Guard, General Owens served in numerous leadership positions at every level, including working to establish Agribusiness Development Teams for Afghanistan, where he worked with the National Guard and Land Grant Universities in multiple states. He currently serves as Chief of the Common Management and Price Support programs at the Texas State FSA Office.

Our third witness is Colonel Eric D. Ahlness, US Army (Ret.), White Bear Lake, MN. Colonel Ahlness retired in February 2014 after having served 28 years. During his service he commanded the Minnesota Agribusiness Development Team, which was deployed to Afghanistan from October 2011 to September 2012. He now serves as the North American Lead for Diversity and Business Impact for Cargill.

I want to thank our distinguished panel for joining us today. I now recognize the Ranking Member for his opening remarks.