Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing Addresses Small Farm vs. Large Farm Rhetoric

Senator Hyde-Smith meets with some of her rice growing constituents at last month's fly-in
Mar 16, 2023
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing on the Oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with Secretary Tom Vilsack as the sole witness, his first appearance before the Committee during the 118th Congress.

While, many Senators focused on USDA’s handling of climate and conservation programs, food and nutrition programs, and the delivery of technical assistance to producers, rice state Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) encouraged the Secretary to maintain Congress’s intent of farm safety programs by treating all sizes of farms the same.

“This administration has repeatedly emphasized its desire to help small and organic farmers and hobby farmers which you also indicated in your testimony... When you walk down the cereal aisle of your grocery store…and when you walk down the flour aisle, and the rice aisle, you realize our job is to feed this country and to feed this world…” began Senator Hyde-Smith.

“According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, three percent of U.S. farms, the large family farms, are responsible for 47 percent of production to feed this country.  Larger operations allow farmers to capitalize on the benefits of economies of size and efficiencies as they work to feed and clothe this world.  And they are the primary reason America is home to the most efficient and sustainable agriculture production system this world has ever known.,” Hyde-Smith continued.  “The farm safety net exists to ensure that we have that safe, affordable, and nutritious food supply that is produced in the U.S. and our success ensures we don’t become a country dependent on imports for everything, especially our food supply.  The farm safety net consists of programs that provide economic viability not only to the producers but also the rural communities they live in and support.  As we look to the next farm bill, what assurances can you give us that USDA will act according to the intent of Congress when administrating farm safety net programs?  I know this is a tremendously delicate balance that you have there, but my concern is truly feeding the masses.”

In response, Vilsack assured the committee that his goal was to “keep people on the farm.”

Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member of the Committee, also touched on this point during his opening statement, saying, “While 89 percent of the farms in the U.S. are classified as small by USDA and contribute nearly 18 percent of farm production, there are 3.2 percent of farms, classified as large, that contribute 46.5 percent of our nation’s farm production.  All farms are valuable.  This farm bill will not neglect the small nor punish the large.”