Tester: Ag policy should support rural America, not consolidation

Senator questions Ag Secretary Vilsack during subcommittee hearing

(U.S. Senate) – Montana farmer and U.S. Senator Jon Tester is pushing Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ensure that agriculture policy and USDA’s budget support rural America.

During a Senate hearing today on USDA’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget, Tester asked Secretary Vilsack whether current agriculture policy supported family farmers and ranchers or favored consolidation of the agriculture industry.

“I’ve run our farm for almost 40 years now, and over the last 30 or 40 years, I’ve seen a mass exodus off the land directly associated with consolidation in agriculture,” Tester said. “We’ve seen consolidation in the marketplace and in production agriculture and not as much competition as we’d like. Are we helping to keep people in rural America or are we encouraging more consolidation?”

Secretary Vilsack responded that there are major new investments in rural America, but an eye must be kept to make sure young men and women are getting involved in agriculture.

“There are two issues we need to focus on: the aging nature of today’s farmers, because I think we’re going to have a significant turnover,” Vilsack said. “And finally the public relations effort to acquaint people with the concerns of rural America and the need for continued investment and a continued focus.”

Tester recently renewed his work to ensure new food safety regulations do not unnecessarily burden small producers. He is also a strong supporter of Country of Original Labeling (COOL), which would allow Montana producers to market their products as made-in-America.

Tester also asked whether the Department has fixed software issues that have complicated the Farm Service Agency’s rollout of the new commodity support programs that were created by the new Farm Bill. Secretary Vilsack assured him that the issues had been fixed and over 70 percent of producers had chosen a coverage option.