Chairman Bishop Statement at Hearing on the Rural Economy
Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-GA), Chair of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the rural economy:
The Subcommittee will come to order.
Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing.
This morning we are examining the state of the rural and farm economies through the lens of farm credit.
We have two panels to help us understand the challenges and opportunities our farmers, ranchers, producers and rural communities face.
The first panel consists of two members of the Farm Credit Administration (FCA) board, Dallas Tonsager, who is the chairman and CEO of FCA and Jeffery Hall, who is an FCA board member and chairman of the Farm Credit System Insurance Corporation. While few people outside the of the agriculture world may know about this small, independent agency tucked inside the executive branch, it has an important regulatory role in overseeing the banks and associations within the Farm Credit System.
The second panel consists of three CEOs of regional Agricultural Credit Associations within the Farm Credit System. Created by Congress more than 100 years ago, the Farm Credit System, which is the largest agricultural lender, provides safe, sound, and reliable source of credit and related services to farmers and rural communities. The members on this panel represent large portions of the country, from the Southeast to the Midwest, and will give us a sense of what is happening on the ground and lend a voice to our farmers.
I thank everyone for being here today, especially those who had to travel to get here!
This discussion comes at a critical time for our farmers, ranchers, producers, and rural communities. Recent natural disasters across the country – including hurricanes and tornados in my home state of Georgia and unprecedented flooding in Nebraska, the home state of our Distinguished Ranking Member Mr. Fortenberry – have created stress and uncertainty, on top of impacts from the ongoing tariff situation.
And that is not to mention the fact that farmers have faced years of declining commodity prices. I’ve heard from my constituents, as I’m sure my colleagues have too, and there is a lot of anxiety out there right now. Farmers and ranchers are resilient by nature, but for many the future holds a lot of unknows.
To be honest, I did not think we’d still be sitting here in April without a disaster aid package signed into law. I’m hopeful it will happen soon, and I am eager to hear from our witnesses on the second panel who are dealing with the aftermath of disasters first hand.
Even with all that uncertainty there are reasons to be optimistic. In 2017, the Farm Credit System made more than $9 million in loans for young farmers and more than $12 million for beginning farmers. In total, $86.9 million in new loans were made to young, beginning and small farmers. Investing in the future of agriculture, whether it be research or people, is a priority of this committee and I am looking forward to hearing more about FCA’s and the Farm Credit System’s outreach to these farmers.
In addition to making loans, farm credit banks and associations serve as a trusted resource information for people in agriculture and rural America. They build relationships, offer trainings, support trade associations, and donate time and resources after natural disasters.
Finally, as chairman of this subcommittee and a member from a rural district in Southwest Georgia, rural development is one of my top priorities. I believe that the zip code in which someone is born should not prevent them from realizing their full potential. I was glad to see all our witnesses took time to address the issues in rural America in their written testimony and we will explore this topic further.
I want to thank all our witnesses for being with us today, and I look forward to today’s discussion.