At first hearing of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade, which he chairs, Senator Reverend Warnock pushes for quick Senate confirmation of senior agricultural trade officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
The bipartisan hearing, titled “Agricultural Trade: Priorities and Issues Facing America’s Farmers”, focused on trade issues that are affecting farmers in Georgia and nationwide
Hearing witnesses included University of Georgia agricultural trade expert Dr. Gopinath Munisamy and Karla Thompson of Camilla, GA’s JET Farms Georgia and Integrity Farms
During the hearing, Senator Warnock questioned the witnesses about how lack of federal leadership to address agricultural trade concerns hinders efforts to expand international market access, which helps provide economic certainty for agricultural producers
Hearing follows Senator Reverend Warnock’s recent visit to Dickey Farms in Musella, GA where local farmers discussed how trade barriers hurt profitability and increase farm stress
Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) called on his Senate colleagues to quickly consider and confirm nominees for two agricultural trade leadership positions within the administration to address trade concerns and reduce trade barriers faced by Georgia farmers. Senator Warnock’s call for action came during the first hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry’s Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade, which he chairs.
The subcommittee hearing, titled Agricultural Trade: Priorities and Issues Facing America’s Farmers, explored how the federal government can best address trade-related barriers and concerns experienced by farmers in Georgia and across the nation. Barriers to international market access have exacerbated economic pressures for American farmers brought on by the pandemic and extreme weather events, undermining certainty for farmers and putting their profitability at risk. During the hearing, Senator Warnock highlighted the importance of hearing directly from farmers, and urgently filling the roles of the Chief Agricultural Negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to begin addressing farmers’ trade concerns.
“While passage of the next Farm Bill is likely months away, our farmers are facing trade barriers in international markets right now,” Senator Warnock said in his opening statement. “This moment of uncertainty in our international markets demands strong leadership. I’m glad to see that Alexis Taylor has been nominated to be the USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, and I look forward to considering her nomination soon before this Committee. I’m also relieved that President Biden finally put forward the nomination of Doug McKalip to be the Chief Agricultural Negotiator at USTR. These positions are critical given the current stress that our farmers are dealing with because of the challenges in the current trade situation. The Senate needs to confirm these nominees right away because it’s unacceptable that no one has been confirmed for these critical roles.”
The hearing featured a panel of expert witnesses, including Georgians Dr. Gopinath Munisamy, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Marketing at the University of Georgia (UGA), and Karla Baker Thompson, a farmer from Camilla, Georgia representing the U.S. Peanut Federation. During the hearing, both Dr. Munisamy and Mrs. Thompson shared stories of their experiences dealing with agricultural trade issues on the ground, and spoke to how burdensome trade barriers—including limited access to profitable international trade markets and dumping of seasonal fruit and vegetable products from other countries that make American producers less competitive against their international counterparts—can negatively affect Georgia farmers.
“On a recent road trip to South Georgia with my Dean, I found a common theme across the dozen produce farms we visited: hard-working families—husband and wife, grandpa and granddaughter, entire family—challenged by imports, input costs, and labor issues. A major question on their agenda is ‘how can we compete with the flood of both in-season and off-season Mexican and South American produce in our markets?,’” Dr. Munisamy testified at the hearing, specifically speaking to the need for predictable market access, and for federal policy to address trade inequities that directly and significantly impact farmers’ work.
Speaking to the importance of accessing international markets for economic predictability and profitability, Georgia peanut farmer Mrs. Thompson added during the hearing: “Peanuts require certain soils, particular climate or growing conditions, and specialized equipment. Our multiple pieces of harvesting equipment can be used for no other commodity. In a matter of a few short weeks, certain equipment is used to harvest and then will not be used again until the next year. With these rising costs of production for peanuts, we cannot afford to ignore an unhealthy peanut export market. Simply put, we need to sell more U.S. peanuts.”
Senator Warnock pledged during the hearing to continue pushing to confirm federal agricultural trade leaders, and engage them on the issues he hears about from Georgia farmers regarding restrictive trade regulations. The hearing followed Senator Warnock’s recent visit to Dickey Farms in Musella, GA where he met with local farmers, along with state and local agriculture leaders, about federal efforts to address farm stress and strengthen access to mental health care for farmers. During his visit, the Senator heard repeatedly about the need to address farmers’ trade concerns as a key step toward increasing profitability and alleviating farmer stress.
See below for Senator Warnock’s full opening statement:
“Today’s hearing, titled “Agricultural Trade: Priorities and Issues Facing America’s Farmers,” is an opportunity for members of this Subcommittee to hear directly from our farmers regarding their trade challenges and priorities in today’s tough and changing economy.
“Just last week, I spent time in Dickey’s Farm in Musella, Georgia meeting with a group of farmers and agriculture leaders to discuss the stress our farmers are experiencing. Their message to me and to use was loud and clear – farming is a really tough job, but it is especially tough right now.
“Farmers in Georgia and throughout the country have been forced to navigate a tremendous amount of uncertainty over the last few years. Among their challenges: trade wars, COVID-19 supply chain disruptions, and now Russia’s war in Ukraine have sent shockwaves through global commodity markets.
“Farmers are also experiencing extreme weather events as we deal with climate change. Many in Georgia painfully remember the destruction of Hurricane Michael in 2018. And as we speak, a third of the counties in Georgia are experiencing some level of drought.
“In Georgia, the success of our farmers is integral to the success of our state. According to the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, food and fiber production and processing contributes nearly $70 billion to Georgia’s economy, supporting over 350,000 jobs in my state.
“Expanding trade opportunities is not a guarantee for success, but it is certainly a vital tool in the toolbox for our farmers—and the farmers in Musella told me repeatedly that trade barriers are a risk to their profitability. They are dealing with that challenge in real time on the ground. I believe it is our responsibility to support policies that keep our farmers competitive in the global market and expand opportunities for market access.
“I’m focused on doing all I can to help Georgia’s farmers thrive economically and in their communities. And as we prepare for the next Farm Bill, I look forward to working with members of the Agriculture Committee, including Ranking Member Hoeven, to ensure that we are making strategic investments that set all farmers up for success, including those who have been historically underserved and overlooked.
“While passage of the next Farm Bill is likely months away, our farmers are facing trade barriers in international markets right now. Here are just a few examples:
“Last year, I partnered with my friend, Senator Tuberville to highlight concerns to USDA and USTR raised by our peanut farmers in getting their products to market in Europe, and ways we need federal agencies to better coordinate and step up to help address this issue.
“I also remain concerned that our trade policies are leaving certain sectors behind, including Georgia’s seasonal fruit and vegetable farmers. A steep increase in cheap imports have made it difficult for Georgia’s produce farmers to compete in the market. I’m especially hearing in that regard from our blueberry farmers and current regulations around showing that they are under distress have made it difficult for them to get any kind of relief. And so I’ve worked with Senator Rubio to support legislation to defend domestic produce production, and level the playing field for Georgia’s fruit and vegetable growers.
“As a proud Georgian, it would be a missed opportunity in this hearing to not mention pecans (or pecans, depending on where you’re from). My state is number one for pecan production (that’s how we usually say it in Georgian), but Georgia’s pecan growers are currently facing tariff rates as high as 36 percent when attempting to export their product to India. And so I am currently working with Senator Cornyn to address this, and in the coming days, we will be pushing USTR to prioritize engagement on this issue.
“These are just a few examples of concerns that I’m hearing from farmers across Georgia. But these examples underscore how we can work across party lines to tackle trade barriers in support of our farmers. And as Chair of this Subcommittee, it is my goal to ensure farmers’ voices and experiences are heard throughout the halls of the Senate, to better inform our work.
“This moment of uncertainty in our international markets demands strong leadership. I’m glad to see that Alexis Taylor has been nominated to be the USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, and I look forward to considering her nomination soon before this Committee.
“I’m also relieved that President Biden finally put forward the nomination of Doug McKalip to be the Chief Agriculture Negotiator at USTR. These positions are critical given the current stress that our farmers are dealing with because of the challenges in the current trade situation. The Senate needs to confirm these nominees right away because it’s unacceptable that no one has been confirmed for these critical roles.
“Finally, I want to say thank you to Ranking Member Hoeven and his team for working with me on this hearing. The agriculture sectors in Georgia and North Dakota may look different, but I know we share many of the same priorities when it comes to advocating for the farmers in our states.
“Ranking Member Hoeven, I will turn the floor over to you for any opening comments you would like to make.”