Brown is the First Senator from Ohio to Serve on Ag Committee in More than 50 Years

Download Production-Quality Video to Full Exchange Here 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing yesterday, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) pressed Ms. Xochitl Torres Small, nominee to serve as USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development, and Mr. Robert Bonnie, nominee to serve as Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, on a number of Ohio priorities as the committee considered their nominations.

“I look forward to supporting both of these nominees for their appointments at USDA and working with them to prioritize and meet the needs of Ohio farmers and small business owners,” said Brown.

Brown pressed Mr. Bonnie – who served in the Obama Administration as Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment – on how to implement a strategic approach to conservation practices that prioritize soil health, and promote climate-smart agricultural practices.

More from Brown’s hearing exchanges is included below and video is available HERE:

Brown: Mr. Bonnie, your comments and the importance of the farm safety net – ensuring our farmers have the risk mitigation tools they need to succeed – are welcome. In the 2018 farm bill, I authored an amendment that allows state conservationist paid 90 percent of the cost of high priority EQIP practices, up from 75 percent. Many states declined to do so. What do we do to encourage states to take advantage of that?

Mr. Bonnie: Senator I have to say it's not an issue that I am really familiar with but opportunities to provide increased incentives for high priority practices are welcome and would welcome the opportunity to think with you and your staff on where we could apply that. I know the Western Lake Erie Basin is very important to you and maybe that is a place we could think about implementing that.

Brown: Thanks, and your comments in our personal conversation earlier this week about marginal farmland, planting grasses and trees among the best ways to address the climate crisis and so much else, as you expanded on. I work with Senators Grassley and Ernst in some initiatives in the 2018 Farm Bill. How do we use incentive payments to encourage more farmers to enroll in CREP initiative that require or that retire marginal acres? How do we leverage a private sector to help share the cost of some of these agreements?

Mr. Bonnie: I think on the CREP front, as I said earlier, it is vitally important to think about targeting to make sure we get the right lands into the program. And I think for thinking about some of the continuous practices, buffers or other types of things where we can put the right practices on the most important acres is a place where I think we can get a lot of bang for the buck and there may be opportunities to partner with the private sector. There is growing interest in climate-smart agriculture there may be opportunities in that and other ways to think about bringing private investment into agriculture as well.

Brown pressed Ms. Torres Small – a native of New Mexico, with years of experience with the challenges facing rural America – about what can be done to help smaller rural communities lacking in resources like water infrastructure take advantage of Rural Development funds. 

Brown: Ms. Torres Small, I look with excitement at your nomination in part because of our conversation. Listening to you talk about intimacy that you have with your old congressional district and your state generally and what that means especially in affordable housing and access to health care in rural America. R-CAP does an excellent job helping with water infrastructure, if you'd talk to that for a moment. What more do we do to help communities succeed and get access to these programs?

Ms. Torres Small: Absolutely. As we talk about water as fundamental building block for life it is crucial that Rural Development continue to engage in communities and identify those needs where they are most. R-CAP does an incredible job. The work that Rural Development does when it comes to technological assistance is really important in making sure we are reaching the most underserved communities and folks really on the brink in terms of public health because of a lack of access to drinking water, good clean water or a lack of access to good waste water. My dad actually, even growing up in the Mesilla Valley still remembers where the outhouse was when he was growing up in the house he still lives in. So, this is how important it is to make sure that no one is left behind and I look forward to getting to work with you in housing as well water issues for rural development.

USDA’s Rural Development program provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas by supporting infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas.

Brown has been a leader for Ohio’s rural communities, successfully securing a number of provisions that are important to Ohio farmers in the 2018 Farm Bill. He is the first Ohioan to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in more than 50 years

Brown has worked to secure important wins for Lake Erie through legislation and by speaking out against harmful proposals that threaten the health of Lake Erie.

Brown helped secure investments for Ohio water infrastructure projects as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA 2020). WRDA 2020 invests in key water infrastructure projects to be studied, planned and developed by the Corps, including our nation’s ports, inland waterways, locks, dams, flood and coastal storm protection and ecosystem restoration.

Brown secured $320 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) in the 2020 appropriations package. After speaking out against former President Trumps 2021 budget, Brown was also successful in preventing cuts to USDA’s conservation programs that help improve water quality in Lake Erie. Senators Brown and Portman also worked together to ensure GLRI was not only reinstated but also fully funded after President Trump repeatedly proposed to slash funding for the program.

Brown was also able to include several provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill to protect Lake Erie and Ohio Waterways. The final bill includes provisions from Brown’s bipartisan Give Our Resources the Opportunity to Work (GROW) Actwhich will better utilize existing federal conservation programs to protect waterways and expand access to quality farmland.

Brown helped to establish the RCPP in the 2014 Farm Bill which created voluntary partnerships between agricultural and conservation groups aimed at helping farmers improve soil health, protect water quality, and restore wildlife habitats. This program has resulted in numerous innovative conservation practices that are reducing runoff into Lake Erie.