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Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway: Committee on Agriculture Hearing: State of the Rural Economy: Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Mr. Secretary, welcome to you, sir. 

We have visited many times before — including prior to your taking office — but allow me to officially declare this committee’s sincere congratulations on becoming our nation’s 31st secretary of agriculture. We are eager to work with you and are certain you will uphold the office with the utmost respect and concern for rural America’s interests.

We also know you have a great heart and concern for America’s farmers and ranchers. And, we know that you have both the policy and political acumen to get things done. In short, I don’t think that there is a better man for the job of secretary of agriculture in these challenging times.

Mr. Secretary, while it took some time to get you confirmed, I want to commend you for landing on your feet and going full throttle from the second you took office. I greatly appreciate you weighing in with the administration on the vital importance of trade to our nation’s farmers and ranchers, particularly regarding NAFTA.

Your work to begin reining in the Waters of the U.S. regulation and put in place a new rule that fully respects private property rights, federalism, and no fewer than three U.S. Supreme Court rulings is critical to helping dismantle this attempted federal land grab. 

And your successful support for the issuance of an executive order by the president to revisit the myriad of regulations affecting American agriculture could not come soon enough. Whether it is Department of Labor regulations that frustrate the goal of a functional guest worker program or the onslaught of EPA regulations that number too many to be mentioned by name, you have a big lift in front of you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for taking on this challenge.

Restoring some common sense into the school lunch program and putting the brakes on harmful regulations that would threaten longstanding livestock marketing arrangements and would force organic producers to comply with overly prescriptive animal welfare practices are also very welcome actions.

As you begin the work of implementing federal biotech labeling requirements I hope that you exercise the same kind of prudent judgment.   

Thank you for your role in helping ensure that the United States fully enforces its trade laws, including against Mexico’s illegal dumping of sugar onto the U.S. market. I also want to underscore the importance in your leadership in working with USTR to continue building the case against China's domestic support and TRQ administration for corn, rice and wheat.

If we are to regain America’s confidence in trade, we must hold our trading partners accountable for their commitments. On the topic of the importance of trade, you announced this week that you are embarking on a reorganization of the Department of Agriculture which would include an undersecretary focused solely on trade.

I look forward to hearing more about your ideas on how to make the department even more effective in the important work that it does every day, even as it does so within the confines of tighter budgets. As we look to the budget, I think it is important to point out that the current Farm Bill was expected to save $23 billion over 10 years, but the most recent Congressional Budget Office projections show that the 2014 Farm Bill is now on target to save $104 billion—more than four times what was anticipated. 

That is an achievement made possible by the hard work and determination of the members of this committee and our counterparts in the Senate. Mr. Secretary, I hope and trust that you will make sure the president knows about this as he makes the tough choices on the allocation of scarce budget resources.   

As you know, America’s farmers and ranchers have seen their net incomes cut in half in just four years. Times are very, very difficult on the farm and ranch these days. And, if those who are paid to make forecasts about these things are correct, economic times in farm and ranch country will get worse before they get better.

It is my experience as a CPA in farm and ranch country that a bad farm economy can adversely impact the entire economy, while a good farm economy can boost the national economy and job creation. It is also my experience that strong U.S. farm policy not only sees our farmers and ranchers through hard times, but it mitigates the adverse impacts on the national economy and jobs.

Thus far, we have a safety net in place that is largely working as intended, with two exceptions: cotton and dairy. America’s cotton farmers — and the entire industry — have rallied around a way to mend their safety net to make it more effective in mitigating the effects of China’s and India’s predatory trading practices.

You have the legal authority to effectuate this policy and I would urge you with the utmost urgency to exercise your authority. As you know, Congress would have done this a couple of weeks ago but for the recklessness of a couple of folks in the other chamber.

And, while the dairy industry continues working on a unified approach to mending its safety net, I believe that there is ample authority for you to help when needed just as your predecessor did. If we can thread these two needles, we will be in a much better position to deliver on the president’s promise of a strong Farm Bill passed on time.

With that, I recognize my friend, the ranking member, for any opening remarks that he may have.