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Chairwoman Jahana Hayes Opening Statement at Hearing, "A 2022 Review of the Farm Bill: Title XII – Department Operations and Outreach"

WASHINGTON House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Chairwoman Jahana Hayes delivered the following statement at today's hearing titled "A 2022 Review of the Farm Bill: Title XII – Department Operations and Outreach"

[As prepared for delivery]

Thank you to the Undersecretary and to the Administrator for joining today’s hearing, which is another in our series of hearings to review the 2018 Farm Bill and prepare for the 2023 Farm Fill. I appreciate you both taking time out of your schedules to us with your expertise.

During this hearing, we will hear from USDA about the implementation of 2018 Farm Bill provisions and the impact on department operations and outreach programs, like the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. This is also an opportunity to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic and other events over the past four years have impacted the Department and these important programs.

Today’s testimony will be critical as we craft the 2023 Farm Bill, and will help to ensure that we do so with an eye on how the structure and operations of USDA impact our country’s farmers, ranchers, and all those the Department serves.

USDA is comprised of 29 agencies and offices with more than 100,000 employees, and there are more than 4,500 USDA offices in the U.S. and across the world. Ensuring that Congress properly funds, supports, and oversees USDA’s operations so that the Department operates effectively – meaning both that it is fully staffed and that its programs operate properly – is critical to maintaining the American food supply and feeding our nation for years to come.

It is also critical to ensure that USDA’s external-facing operations are running smoothly and that USDA’s farm programs are reaching all of our country’s producers, which is where the outreach programs serve a crucial role.

We know our nation’s producers are getting older. As of 2017, more than one-third of America’s farmers were age 65 or older. The average age of producers in the U.S. is about 58, up more than a year from the previous agricultural census, continuing a trend we have been seeing for a long time.

In CT-5, my District, 32 percent of farmers are 65 or older, so we are doing slightly better than the nation as a whole, but like the country at-large, we are still in dire need of more new and beginning farmers.

To strengthen the future of agriculture in America, it is important that USDA programs are accessible to all producers.  Supporting our beginning farmers – farmers who are in their first 10 years of operation – is key to cultivating the future of American agriculture.

Encouraging more people from every type of background to go into farming is also key to ensuring we have a strong agricultural economy for many decades to come. That is why USDA’s outreach to underserved communities – like farmers of color and women and veteran farmers – is critical to ensuring these communities have the resources they need to succeed.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, only 1.7 percent of all producers identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.6 percent identified as Asian, 1.3 percent as Black or African American, 0.1 percent as Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 0.8 percent as more than one race, and 3.3 percent as of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin. Only about 11 percent of farmers served in the military and about 36 percent of producers were women. We can do better!

I look forward to hearing more today about the programs that perform outreach to these communities, including the ‘Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program’ – also known as the 2501 Program – and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, and how they support today’s producers while cultivating the next generation of farmers.

Thank you again to our Members and witnesses for joining us today. I sincerely look forward to hearing today’s testimony about the importance of USDA outreach programs and the status of department operations issues, like staffing, IT, and much more.

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