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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, among the most hopeful occurrences in rural America is when someone is able to get started in farming or ranching and go on to build a successful operation. Typically, the beginning farmer or rancher is continuing an established family farm or ranch, although increasingly he or she is taking on the challenge of starting and growing an entirely new operation.

Because farming and ranching families are so vital to rural communities and our Nation as a whole, there has been a great deal of concern for decades as America's agricultural producers have grown older and retired, as farm numbers fell, and as men and women who had a great desire to become the next generation of farmers and ranchers were unable to find the opportunities and resources to do so.

Across America, we are fortunate to have many families and individuals who possess the ability, motivation, and dedication to start or continue a farm or ranch and build a rewarding life in agriculture. Our Nation needs more beginning farmers and ranchers across all types of operations--including commercial-scale crop and animal agriculture systems, organic agriculture, growing for local food systems and farmers markets, and even farming in urban and suburban areas. We need more beginning farmers and ranchers to secure critical supplies of food, fuel, and fiber for the future. We need them as stewards to care for and conserve our soil, water, and other natural resources. We need more new farming and ranching families as contributing members of healthy and vibrant local communities.

Aspiring and beginning farmers and ranchers confront tremendous challenges, yet there are some hopeful signs. According to the Census of Agriculture, the number of farms in the United States increased four percent between 2002 and 2007. The new farms tended to be smaller, have lower sales, and rely more on off-farm income sources. New farmers are also more diverse, with significant increases between 2002 and 2007 in the number of farm operators who are women, Hispanic, American Indian, African-American, and Asian-American.

We know from experience that carefully designed programs can very effectively help beginning farmers and ranchers apply their talents and efforts, assemble the necessary resources, capitalize upon opportunities, and succeed. I am proud that in the two farm bills, in 2002 and 2008, that we enacted while I was chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, we adopted a number of initiatives to strengthen and improve programs at the Department of Agriculture that assist beginning farmers and ranchers.

The legislation I am introducing today, joined by a number of my colleagues, is crafted to extend, improve, and strengthen beginning farmer and rancher programs and initiatives that we adopted in the most recent two farm bills and in earlier farm bills and other legislation. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 will build upon the successful record of the earlier legislation and its implementation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in cooperation with a variety of public and private institutions and organizations.

Let me emphasize that the beginning farmer and rancher initiatives in the legislation we are introducing today, and the programs now being carried out by USDA, are not designed or intended to guarantee the success of any beginning farmer or rancher or to give anyone something for nothing. All they do is to offer a helping hand, a better opportunity, to women and men who make the effort and apply themselves, who are willing to learn and to do the necessary work to achieve their goals and succeed in farming and ranching.

A key feature of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 is to extend and strengthen the beginning farmer and rancher development program, which we enacted in 2008. In this program, USDA provides competitively-awarded grants to qualified organizations that deliver training and education for beginning farmers and ranchers. This new legislation makes it a new priority for USDA to issue grants to support agricultural rehabilitation and vocational training for military veterans and to deliver training and education to help veterans who are beginning farmers and ranchers. The bill also would extend and increase mandatory funding for this development program to $25 million in each of fiscal years 2013 through 2017.

This legislation also strengthens in several ways the assistance USDA provides to enable beginning farmers and ranchers to assemble the financial resources they need to start and build a successful operation. It creates a microloan program in which young beginning farmers and ranchers who qualify could borrow up to $35,000 for operating expenses at reduced interest rates and with simplified paperwork. Also included in this bill is mandatory funding at $5 million a year to carry out the individual development accounts pilot program that was enacted in the 2008 farm bill. Grants under this pilot program would support at least 15 State individual development account initiatives to help beginning farmers and ranchers build savings that can then be invested in their agricultural operations. Several other provisions of the bill update and improve the existing USDA programs to help beginning farmers and ranchers obtain loans for operating expenses, land purchases, and applying conservation practices.

To encourage and assist beginning farmers and ranchers in maintaining and adopting sound conservation practices in their operations, the bill extends and strengthens several initiatives enacted in previous farm bills. For example, the legislation expands the options and financial incentives for maintaining conservation on land that comes out of the Conservation Reserve Program, CRP, contracts and is leased or sold to beginning farmers or ranchers. Other provisions increase the share of funds and enrollment dedicated to beginning farmers and ranchers in the Conservation Stewardship Program, CSP, and Environmental Quality Incentives Program, EQIP, strengthen help to beginning farmers and ranchers through the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, promote their use of whole-farm conservation planning, and boost help to them through conservation loans and cost-share payments.

Other features of the bill are designed to strengthen revenue insurance available to beginning farmers and ranchers through USDA's Risk Management Agency, including increased funding to help beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers better understand and utilize insurance programs and risk management systems. In order to help beginning farmers and ranchers build markets and increase income through adding value to their commodities, the bill enhances opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers to receive USDA value-added producer grants and provides new, increased mandatory funding for such grants. To strengthen USDA's attention to helping beginning farmers and ranchers, the legislation creates coordinators in key USDA agency offices in each State. It also creates a special USDA veterans agricultural liaison position to focus upon helping veterans understand and benefit from USDA programs, especially those for beginning farmers and ranchers.

In conclusion, I am proud of the initiatives we have previously enacted to help beginning farmers and ranchers create and pursue opportunities and realize their goals and dreams. By building on the success of the existing programs, this legislation will lend more help to beginning farmers and ranchers and in doing so strengthen American agriculture, our rural communities, and our nation as a whole. I am grateful to the cosponsors of this bill and urge all of my colleagues to support it.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

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Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, today it gives me great pleasure to introduce the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act Reauthorization of 2011--also known as the PAHPA Reauthorization of 2011--with a bipartisan group of Senators that includes Senators Burr, Casey, Enzi, Mikulski, Alexander, Hagan, Collins, Lieberman, and Roberts. This reauthorization builds on a record of bipartisan cooperation to strengthen our ability to respond to and prepare for medical and public health emergencies over the past decade.

Based on lessons learned since the original PAHPA legislation was signed into law in 2006, this reauthorization continues to support the progress made by the Federal Government and its State and local partners to protect its citizens during public health and medical emergencies. It also proposes a number of targeted changes that will improve our ability to address a variety of threats to the public health of our Nation.

Such threats are diverse in origin and include exposure to chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear agents. Sometimes these threats occur naturally--the 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza, for example--or they can be the result of malicious intent--such as the deliberate release of anthrax in 2001. A recent and very challenging example is the radiation leak that occurred at the nuclear plant damaged by Japan's massive earthquake.

It is not just known threats that place the health and well-being of Americans at risk; there are just as many emerging or unknown threats against which protection is critical. Because the impact of these threats could be catastrophic, it is imperative that we continue to strengthen our Nation's ability to adequately prepare for a public health emergency.

Building our Nation's response capacity requires close collaboration among Federal, State and local governments; hospitals and health care providers; businesses; schools; indeed, all Americans. I have long taken the Federal Government's role in being prepared for a public health emergency public health preparedness as it is calledvery seriously.

We have made tremendous progress in preparedness during the last decade, but this reauthorization provides additional flexibility to State and local governments to more efficiently use Federal resources in preparing for public health emergencies. For example, this bill reauthorizes the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Grant Program, which provides critical resources to State and local public health agencies, and streamlines requirements making it easier for them to meet program requirements and target resources.

Our ability to be prepared for a public health emergency also depends on the advanced development and procurement of medical countermeasures. These are the vaccines, therapies, and diagnostics needed to prevent or respond to a bioterrorism event or other public health emergency. In an effort to ensure that we have the appropriate medical countermeasures, we need to continue to support innovative research into promising new products and ensure that products are readily available during a time of emergency. We also need to address the scientific challenges of identifying safe and effective medical countermeasures when human trials are not available or ethical.

This bill addresses a number of these concerns and provides greater certainty for biotech companies that operate in this space and continues to build on partnerships between the private sector and the Federal Government to ensure that we have the appropriate medical countermeasures to prepare for or respond to a public health emergency.

Underlying all of our preparedness activities is the issue of how we ensure that our most vulnerable citizens will be protected should disaster strike. We know that many populations--including individuals with disabilities, seniors, and children--may have unique needs that we have the responsibility to address during a public health emergency. In the past, when faced with catastrophic events, we have too often seen such needs go unmet. Now we must use lessons learned to ensure more efficient, effective, and equitable responses in the future.

Something that I am especially proud of is that the PAHPA Reauthorization of 2011 requires that these individuals are an integrated part of our preparedness efforts. This means that we continue to address the unique needs of at-risk populations--such providing information in a way that it is understandable to all Americans, including those with cognitive limitations--and plan for these unique needs when it comes to drafting preparedness plans and conducting preparedness drills and exercises. This bill truly focuses on addressing the need of our most vulnerable citizens by considering them as critical part of our overall preparedness planning--not as an afterthought.

This bill represents a true bipartisan effort and had the support of a number of important stakeholders. For example, we have already received the endorsements of the Alliance for Biosecurity, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Dental Association. In the coming days and weeks, we expect many more endorsements. Because the bill is so critical to our ability to prepare for and respond to public health and medical emergencies, I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

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