Bonnie denounces New York Times video with Booker

Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie today denounced a New York Times opinion video in which Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, “I’m very frustrated that the incredible climate movement doesn’t talk enough about food. You cannot solve the climate problem unless you fix the American and global food systems.”

Asked by Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., ranking member of the House Agriculture General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee, for his views on the video “Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet,” Bonnie said, “I thought it was a horrible video. I think farmers, ranchers, forest owners are all great stewards of the land. I think they all depend on the productivity of the land, which comes from stewardship. Agriculture has the opportunity to be a critically important partner – in fact, it is already – stepping out in climate, water quality, wildlife and other ways. I was very disappointed with the video.”

Scott thanked Bonnie for his comments and said that he is worried about the video because it is “outright lying about America’s farm families” and that it is “very disappointing to me that somebody in the U.S. Senate would become an extremist opposing America’s farm families.” Scott urged the other members of the committee to watch the video but said they should not do it when they are in a bad mood so they won’t break something.

Scott pointed out that 200,000 farmers produce 85% of the nation’s food supply and said he is very concerned about attacks on these producers who are benefiting from higher commodity prices now but also facing high input costs.

Bonnie was testifying at a subcommittee hearing to review farm policy.

Republicans have criticized the Biden administration’s authority to use the Commodity Credit Corporation to fund its pilot projects on climate-smart agriculture, but members of the subcommittee spent little time on that issue one day after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program.

Perhaps Bonnie set the tone when he spent the early part of his testimony reviewing all the farm programs for which he is responsible before turning to climate issues.

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., subcommittee chair, started off by asking Bonnie to explain the authorities involved in using $1 billion in CCC budget authority, the account through which farm subsidies are distributed, for the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program.

Bonnie explained one of the purposes of the CCC is to promote domestic consumption of agricultural products by helping to expand markets, including the creation of new markets. “This is a commodity program, this is a program on working lands to link climate-smart practices, to incentivize climate-smart practices as part of commodity production and to measure and monitor that,” Bonnie said.

Noting that the Trump administration had spent $23 billion on the Market Facilitation Program to address income farmers lost when the Chinese retaliated against Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products, Bustos asked Bonnie how much is being spent on the pilot projects; his reply: $1 billion. “We are very confident we will be able to deliver on everything the CCC needs to deliver on,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie also noted that he considers the current crop insurance program “absolutely critical” and that the Risk Management Agency, which he oversees, is working on new policies. He also said the public-private partnership with crop insurance sold by agents should continue. He noted that disaster aid is linked to participation in the crop insurance program.

Bonnie faced questions from Democrats and Republicans about staffing at USDA agencies, particularly the Farm Service Agency.

Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., ranking member on the full House Agriculture Committee, noted that it has been 23 months since lockdowns began and that local FSA offices are staffed at only 25% of normal. Bonnie said that USDA is monitoring the incidence of COVID-19 county by county and on Monday moved 804 offices from 25% to 50% staff. Bonnie said the Biden administration expects to move very quickly to increase the number of personnel in offices as the omicron variant abates.

Thompson complained that Vilsack has acted alone rather than consult the committee on development of climate-smart initiatives. If USDA uses a climate-smart label, the committee wants to participate in the development of that plan, Thompson said.

Thompson noted that the Natural Resources Conservation Service is issuing the notice of funding availability for the partnerships and said he thinks the program “looks like a conservation program dressed up as a marketing program.”


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