What is in this article?:
• This legislation and the bills that Congress will pass is really about keeping pace with the changing needs of agriculture and the challenges which face rural America.
• It's about providing an adequate food supply for our nation and the world.
• The choices these lawmakers will make will help shape agricultural, food, and rural development policy and will help determine what our farms and our rural communities look like.
“By conducting more than 850,000 investigations into suspected SNAP fraud last year, we stopped payments to tens of thousands of individuals who weren't qualified and sanctioned more than 1800 stores for improper trafficking of SNAP benefits or other violations. And we want to work with Congress to continue this work, to improve our data collection, to reduce our error rate, and to stop fraud.
“Any legislation considered by Congress involving farming in rural areas of America must also address the needs of the nearly 50 million people who live in those areas who don't necessarily farm.
“Now, there are bright spots in rural America today. Production agriculture has had a significant success; emerging renewable energy strategies show great promise; consumers' interest in food that's created locally has created new opportunities for small and large firms involved in those local and regional food systems; and USDA has helped to drive job creation with the effective use of taxpayer dollars.
“For instance, we've helped to create or save nearly 105,000 jobs in rural America by partnering with local financial institutions to lend over $5 1/2 billion to several thousand rural businesses that were locating or expanding into America. These resources leveraged another 15 to 20 billion dollars of private investment. We've helped to finance over 435,000 home loans in over 20,000 rural communities; 5,100 rural water and wastewater projects have been funded by USDA, putting people to work and providing clean water for nearly 17 million rural Americans; and we continue to invest in rural electrification, nearly $18 billion in the last two and a half years, to modernize that system.
“Now, by structuring our fees and our interest rates properly, these programs cost little, if anything, to the federal taxpayers; but all of them help to create jobs and improve quality of life. With this in mind, Congress should seize the opportunity to improve rural development programs in this next farm bill to make sure that the federal government is the best possible partner it can be for businesses and for people who want to live, work, and create business opportunities in rural communities.
“We need to make it easier for people to access USDA-supported programs, we need to reduce the number of programs, we need to simplify the process for applying for those programs, and we need to focus our efforts on firms that wish and need capital to invest in rural America. We need to promote regional development to leverage our resources to the fullest extent.
“Now, one area of determined effort needs to continue to be a focus on the growing biobased economy, with a particular emphasis on renewable energy and biofuels.
“Rural America has done a great job of helping to develop the domestically-produced renewable energy and fuel. That job must continue because when we create those opportunities, we create jobs, we reduce our reliance on foreign energy sources, and we enhance our national security.
“USDA has to have the tools to be able to continue to help this biobased and biofuel and renewable energy economy, and we need to make sure that it's vibrant in all regions of the — of the country. Continuing our investment in renewable energy, biofuel, and biobased products will improve the bottom line for farmers as we find creative ways to use that which they grow.
“It will help create jobs in rural America simply because many of the businesses, the biorefineries, and the industries, will be located where the product is, and we will substantially reduce our reliance on foreign oil.
“Just in the last couple of years, as a result of the expansion of the biofuel industry, we've gone from importing 60 percent of our oil to 52 percent.