Opening Statement: Ranking Member David Rouzer (NC-7)
Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Public Hearing:
“Reviewing the State of the Dairy Economy”
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Chairman Costa, for holding this hearing to focus on the state of the dairy industry. Seemingly all sectors of the agricultural economy are facing challenging times, and the conditions for our dairy farmers are no exception.
Dairymen across the country have faced a multi-year period of low milk prices and trade uncertainty, along with labor challenges that have remained unsolved for decades. These problems are plaguing dairy producers of all sizes and in all regions of the country, which is why House Republicans prioritized making key improvements to the safety net and enhancing risk management options for both large and small dairy operations.
I want to commend Ranking Member Conaway for his work to remove the limitation on livestock insurance policies in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, and, of course, for shepherding the 2018 Farm Bill through the House and to the President’s desk. For our friends in the dairy industry, Conaway’s focus on increasing coverage options, drastically reducing premiums for catastrophic coverage in Tier 2, and eliminating the restriction between Livestock Gross Margin insurance and the new Dairy Margin Coverage program are all improvements that should help producers better manage the risks and uncertainty they face.
Dairy farmers and their lenders are watching closely for news from USDA about the availability of coverage under the new program, and I want to thank Secretary Perdue and FPAC Undersecretary Northey for making the implementation of DMC a priority and providing as much information as possible to dairy farmers about the program while we wait on the finalized regulations. I am pleased to note that as of this morning, USDA has announced the web-based decision aid tool for DMC is now available for producers to begin reviewing their options before sign-up begins.
While the improvements to the safety net are critical to helping producers survive the tough times, what our farmers really need is improved market conditions. This is why swift approval of USMCA is so critical for our farmers and ranchers. According to the long-awaited analysis by the International Trade Commission, dairy is one of the sectors with the most to gain from the renegotiated agreement with Canada and Mexico. While implementation will need to be closely monitored, the additional access for U.S. dairy products and the elimination of Canadian Class 6 and 7 dairy pricing strategies are colossal wins for American dairy producers and processors.
And finally, I want to highlight one other issue impacting all of American agriculture, but perhaps no industry more so than dairy: the shortage of adequate labor and our broken immigration system. Dairy producers essentially have no reliable supply of workers, and the current agricultural guest worker program is only designed for seasonal labor needs, rather than the year-round work required on dairies. Last Congress, I was proud to be an original cosponsor of H.R. 4092, the AG Act, which attempted to address the needs of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural businesses struggling to find adequate labor.
While immigration can be a complicated issue, we should all be able to recognize the disservice Congressional dysfunction has done for all sectors of the agricultural industry in failing to pass meaningful reform of the guest worker program. As we speak, cows go unmilked, fruit gets left on trees, and crops rot in the field because farmers cannot find a legal source of labor.
Meanwhile, Washington waits for the results of the next election and the problems continue to grow. We cannot continue to ignore this problem, and I call on my Democratic colleagues to work across the aisle to craft a commonsense solution the President can sign.
Thank you to all of our witnesses for appearing here today to share your perspectives on the state of the dairy industry. I look forward to hearing about your experiences. Again, thank you Chairman Costa for holding this hearing. I yield back.