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Chair Plaskett Opening Remarks at Subcommittee Hearing on Increasing Resiliency, Mitigating Risk: Examining the Research and Extension Needs of Producers

Washington, June 12, 2019

WASHINGTON (June 12, 2019)- House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Chair Stacey Plaskett delivered the following remarks at the subcommittee hearing on Increasing Resiliency, Mitigating Risk: Examining the Research and Extension Needs of Producers.

[As prepared for delivery]

“Thank you for joining us today as we examine the research and extension needs of producers. Looking back on the past year, we’ve seen intense flooding in the Midwest, hurricanes in the Southeast, and wildfires out West. Just this week, USDA released a Crop Progress Report detailing that 60% of soybeans have been planted in surveyed states compared to an 88% historical planting average.  As we speak, flooding is keeping farmers out of the field. 

“These disasters, driven by an increasingly variable climate, pose serious threats to the domestic agriculture industry and the rural communities depending on this sector.

“Unfortunately, I have seen this firsthand in the Virgin Islands. In 2015, the territory suffered a serious drought. In 2017, we were hit by two major hurricanes.  Now, the territory is once again facing another drought.  Recovery continues to be an ongoing process. My farmers and ranchers need tools that not only help them survive, but thrive, in the face of a changing climate.

“These examples show that farmers and ranchers throughout the country are constantly forced to deal with variables that are outside their control. To remain economically viable and to protect already slim margins, producers seek to create resilient operations by mitigating risks when possible. Advancements in technology and management practices are made possible by robust agriculture research efforts, a topic that is squarely within the jurisdiction of this subcommittee.

“This Committee recognizes the value of investments in public research.  In the 2018 Farm Bill, our Committee supported increased funding for programs like the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. I strongly supported these increased investments, but we cannot become complacent. As detailed in a report by the Economic Research Service, the Chinese government increased spending on agriculture research nearly eightfold between 1990 and 2013.  Their spending on public agriculture research surpassed ours in 2008.  Ten years later, we continue to fall behind.  If we want our agriculture sector to remain competitive, particularly when operating in an increasingly variable climate, we must bolster the resources available to producers.

“According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there are over 396 million acres farmed in the U.S.  The farmers and ranchers tending these acres are on the frontlines of a changing climate. As we seek to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies aimed at combatting climate change, farmers and agricultural researchers must have a seat at the table. Their understanding of working the land is vital, and their voices must be heard. Farmers and ranchers are an integral partner in the fight against climate change.

“To show that farmers have always been climate-focused, I have here the 1941 Yearbook of Agriculture from USDA.  It is titled “Climate and Man.” One line from the forward that still rings true today is this: "The first step in increasing knowledge is to have a healthy awareness of what we do not know." Though farmers have always been acutely aware of climate, their ability to respond to shifts in the climate are changing.

“So that is why we are here today, to hear directly from the stakeholder community on the research and extension needs of farmers as they seek to increase resiliency and mitigate risks. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses, and I thank them for taking time out of their schedules to engage with us on this critically important topic. I would like to thank the witnesses for being here today and I look forward to receiving their testimony."

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