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Public Statements

Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. UDALL of New Mexico. Madam President, I have filed an amendment relating to the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program that I would like to bring to Senator Stabenow's attention.

As the Senator knows, the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the ``2501 Program,'' helps our Nation's historically underserved producers gain access to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's credit, commodity, conservation, and other programs and services.

The program provides competitive grants to educational institutions, agriculture extension offices, and community-based organizations to assist African-American, Native American, Asian-American, and Latino farmers and ranchers in owning and operating farms and participating in USDA programs. The Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program has served more than 100,000 rural constituents in over 400 counties and more than 35 States.

In my State many farmers and ranchers have benefited from projects funded through the 2501 Program.

I will just mention a few.

The New Mexico Acequia Association uses a 2501 grant to improve the sustainability and economic viability of small-scale agriculture among the farmers and ranchers who are part of the historic acequias and community ditches in New Mexico. With this funding the association supports centuries-old irrigation systems and agricultural traditions.

The Northern New Mexico Outreach Project, run by the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service, is also working in my State to develop an education network system between northern New Mexico Hispanic and American Indian farmers and ranchers.

And with the help of 2501 funding, the Taos County Economic Development Corporation is revitalizing ranching and farming traditions that support the cultures of the area, utilizing new technologies and marketing opportunities.

Thanks to the efforts of the committee, the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program can now also extend benefits to veterans.

My amendment would have provided additional funds to support the traditional and new constituencies of the program by increasing direct funding for the program to $150 million over 5 years.

It would continue assistance to disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. And ensure that veterans are fully able to benefit from the program.

The committee mark of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 includes $5 million in annual mandatory funds for the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program and $20 million in annual discretionary funds for the program.

I hope that the Senator and her committee will work with me and with the Appropriations Committee to ensure adequate funding is allocated to the 2501 Program through the Appropriations process in the coming years.

Ms. STABENOW. I want to begin by thanking the Senator from New Mexico for his thoughtful work on this issue. This is an important program, and I commend the Senator for offering his amendment. As we move forward, I am happy to work with the Senator to engage the Appropriations Committee to provide adequate annual funding for the program in the coming years.

Mr. UDALL of New Mexico. I thank the Senator. I am certain she is aware that the USDA's Office of Inspector General released a preliminary audit report in May finding a level of mismanagement of the 2501 Program within the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, or OAO. The report found that OAO officials had not adhered to the agency's draft policies and procedures and did not carry out proper documentation during the selection of 2012 grant recipients.

The OAO has had an immediate and deliberate response to the report. The previous manager of the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Outreach Program has been replaced, the office is putting in a more long-term staff, and the 2012 applicants and grant recipients are being reevaluated.

As the Senator knows, the 2501 Program is vital to ensuring that historically underserved farmers and ranchers have access to USDA programs. And, with the new mission to also serve veteran farmers and ranchers, it is more important than ever that the outreach program be properly administered.

I look forward to working with the Chairwoman and the committee in its oversight role to ensure that the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program is properly and effectively administered.

Ms. STABENOW. I, too, am concerned by the recent administration of the program, and I thank the Senator for addressing some of those issues in his amendment. I am hopeful that the positive steps already taken by the Office of Advocacy and Outreach will ensure the 2501 Program's continued success. I know that the Senator will continue to monitor this situation closely, and I look forward to working with him to ensure that the office fully complies with the recommendations of the OIG report and that the most qualified applicants are awarded grants.

Mr. UDALL of New Mexico. I thank the Senator. In closing, I would like to thank the Senator, the members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and dedicated staff for all of the efforts to negotiate a good farm bill, one that provides significant savings and eliminates antiquated subsidies but seeks to ensure a sound future for agriculture and access to healthy food for families across the Nation.

Madam President, I rise today to discuss the farm bill. First, I wish to thank Senator Stabenow and Senator Roberts for their efforts in crafting a bill that will strengthen our agricultural and rural economy as well as one which reflects fiscal realities. Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts reached across the aisle. They relied on common sense and they found common ground, with compromise and with a focus on results. They, and the members of the Agriculture Committee, worked together and created this bipartisan legislation.

We all know how important this bill is for the 16 million Americans whose jobs are in agriculture and for the consumers who depend on safe, affordable food. It is also important for the families who need nutritional assistance and for the prudent stewardship of our lands. The importance of this legislation cannot be understated.

Like so many New Mexicans, farming and ranching are in my blood. My grandmother drove cattle through New Mexico in the late 1800s. Ranching and farming is a part of my heritage, and of New Mexico's. And it is vital to our economy. More than 20,000 farms are in New Mexico.

The people in my State know that ranching and farming is hard work. The only thing one can count on is uncertainty. It is a uniquely risky business, vulnerable to calamities of weather, subject to global fluctuations in prices and unfair competition. But, American agriculture is the world's leader. It is second to none. It is crucial to our economy and to our national security.

This legislation is truly a reform bill. It is the most significant reform of our agriculture policy in decades. For years, Congress has reauthorized confusing and inequitable farm subsidies, and the public looked on in wonder. The subsidies have in some part helped to keep sectors of US Agriculture vibrant, but, there have been blatant inefficiencies and waste. The rules surrounding direct payments is one example. Such rules do not even require that the recipient grow the covered commodity to receive their payment. The result is an inequitable flow of Federal funds. This hinders new producers and short changes producers who were not lucky enough to own ``base acres'' when they were identified in the 1980s.

For decades, farm bills have come and gone without the subsidy reforms Americans have been calling for. But Chairman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts have taken that unprecedented bold step. Their bill ends direct payments and other major subsidies once and for all.

The 2012 Senate farm bill offers a more equitable insurance that producers buy into. It is not mandatory, but it is a sound safety net that will support American producers.

Chairman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts also set new precedent in turning more attention to crops historically left on the sidelines. Their bill boldly supports fruits, vegetables, nuts and other products so important to creating healthy living. The bill promotes access to nutritious food through farmers markets and locally grown produce. And it strengthens specialty crop provisions. My State is justly famous for its green chile. This bill will help chile and other specialty crops find export markets. And it provides for more research to keep these crops vibrant and competitive.

This legislation will create a more even playing field for dairy farmers, providing a safety net that has no regional or size bias. The bill also continues essential support for livestock producers. In my State, ranchers face grave threats from severe drought and fires and from the continued loss of grazing lands.

This farm bill streamlines and consolidates programs and it reduces the deficit by over $23 billion. Let me repeat: $23 billion in deficit reduction. That is twice the amount recommended by the Simpson-Bowles commission.

This is a strong bill overall. It is not perfect. It consolidates and simplifies conservation programs. But, unfortunately, there are significant cuts in funding. There are cuts in programs that protect watersheds, grasslands, soil, and habitats. These are programs that producers depend on. There are cuts in programs to restore forage, ensure compliance with environmental laws, and maintain healthy soil. It is truly unfortunate to lose such vital funding.

The farm bill covers a very large canvas and addresses many diverse needs. There will be, and should be, healthy debate.

I want to speak today about three specific amendments that I believe will improve this bill.

First, I have filed an amendment to restore mandatory funds for the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program. Thanks to the efforts of the committee, this program can now extend benefits to veterans. My amendment would ensure that the necessary funds are there. This program has helped our Nation's historically underserved producers for over 20 years by providing better access to Department of Agriculture credit, commodity, and conservation services and by providing technical assistance. It has worked and it deserves continued support.

The Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program has served more than 100,000 rural constituents in over 400 counties and more than 35 States. With adequate funding, it can also provide critical support for veteran farmers and ranchers.

Specifically, my amendment would restore direct funding to $150 million over 5 years.

It would continue assistance to disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and ensure that veterans are fully able to benefit from the program.

Second, I have proposed an amendment for rural development funding for frontier communities. Across our Nation, including in my home State, there are many very small, very rural communities with a population density of less than 20 people per square mile. These are great communities, proud communities, with rich histories. But, they have a hard time competing for rural development loans and grants. Often, they don't have the personnel. They don't have the resources. But, their need is just as great as that of larger communities.

My amendment would create a setaside for frontier communities allowing them to access USDA funds targeted for these very small, very rural communities. It would allow the USDA to reach our Nation's most rural and underserved communities. The setaside would be a minimum of percent of rural development programs and it would allow frontier communities to qualify for up to 100 percent grant funding, with no minimum grant or loan requirement.

My amendment would also create a grant program for technical assistance and planning for frontier communities, making sure that funding goes as far as possible. Financing for this program would be from overall rural development funding of no more than 5 percent.

And, third, I have filed an amendment for a rural development setaside for community land grants. These land grant Mercedes are part of a unique and important history in the southwest dating back to the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. These were grants of land made by the governments of Spain or Mexico to entire communities.

These community land grants have a history of loss of land, a history of manipulation and unkept commitments, and a recognized need for increased economic opportunities. My amendment proposes to respond to this unfortunate history. Rural development assistance is crucial to these unique communities.

I wish to again commend my colleagues for this bipartisan legislation. It will continue building our economy by providing jobs and by providing the certainty that producers need for innovation and growth and by providing for the safest, healthiest, and most abundant food supply in the world.

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