Tester seeks new ways to strengthen rural America

Senator questions Ag Secretary to boost rural economies, offer new opportunities

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is looking for more ways to strengthen rural America and make it easier for young farmers and ranchers to get a start in the agriculture business.

Tester, the Senate’s only working farmer, today questioned U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about how the department’s budget proposal will help rural communities boost their economies and create jobs.

Tester told Vilsack that his dedication to helping young farmers and ranchers is better for rural America than the approach of former Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz, who famously told farmers to “get big, or get out.”

“You’ve talked about opportunities for young people and how if rural America continues to shrink as a percent of the population, that’s a bad thing,” Tester told Vilsack. “What does this budget do as far as enhancing opportunity for young people to get into agriculture, whether that’s production agriculture or adding value?”

Vilsack told Tester the budget plan increases beginning farmer and ranchers initiatives, and helps small producers by expanding marketing opportunities, local foods systems, and Farm to School programs.

Tester, who championed an exemption from new food safety regulations for small agriculture producers, is a sponsor of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act that creates a loan program to cover start-up costs and provides capital for new farmers looking to buy land. He also introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which helps connect farmers to local and regional marketing opportunities, and connects consumers with local food.

Tester also pushed Vilsack to explain proposed cuts to conservation programs and the Forest Service’s timber sale targets.

Tester questioned Vilsack as a member of the Appropriations Committee panel that oversees that Agriculture Department’s budget.