Tuberville Advocates for Helping Farmers Amid Historic Drops in Net Income

“if we lose our farmers, we are in bad trouble…”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) is continuing his fight to help craft a Farm Bill that helps America’s farmers, foresters, and producers. In a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee hearing with Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, Senator Tuberville spoke about the need to support farmers struggling from inflation, the dire state of the agriculture economy, and burdensome regulations from Washington. Additionally, Senator Tuberville asked about what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is doing to address Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fraud and promote agricultural trade to keep competitors from having unfair advantages over domestic producers.

Excerpts from Senator Tuberville’s remarks can be found below, and his full remarks can be viewed here


TUBERVILLE: “Mr. Secretary, considering roughly 80 percent of the Farm Bill is for SNAP spending, we need to rein in fraudulent activity and ensure food assistance goes to those who truly need it most. I think we all agree with that. I hope we do. I know that states directly administer SNAP, but USDA oversees the program.  Could requiring the asset test in states help address fraud in SNAP?” 

VILSACK: “I think what would be best to do at this point, Senator, is for us to get back to regular order in terms of the process for people qualifying and staying on SNAP. During the pandemic, there was essentially, a waiver of that process, including constant interviews and touching base with folks. Getting back to regular order I think would be significant, and that’s why we’ve sent letters to governors in a number of states, encouraging them to get back on track.”

TUBERVILLE: “What do you think—what additional information does USDA need to help address the root cause of the fraud? Anything else that we need to make it easier to catch them?”

VILSACK: “Well, I think that we’ve made some significant steps in that regard. And, I think probably what I need to do, Senator, is I need to give you—your team—a full briefing of the steps we’ve taken, given your interest in this. I think sometimes, people see the error rate and they think that represents fraud. Sometimes, the error rate is actually overpaying, and sometimes it’s underpaying. So, we want to make sure that we’re calculating the benefits properly, and making sure that, as you say, people are getting the assistance that they need.”

TUBERVILLE: “Yeah. Thank you. I’ll get my staff to get with you on this, so that we can work on this together.”


TUBERVILLE: “I’ve got a question on trade. The U.S. has historically been strong on agricultural exports. But due to President Biden’s economy, U.S. agricultural trade has a trade deficit of over $30 billion due to rising imports and lack of new market access. Can you share to us how the USDA is working with the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to underscore the need for a proactive approach so that our competitors do not continue to gain market share and capture opportunities that would have otherwise been ours?”

VILSACK: “Well, I think you have to look at what’s driving the import issue. What’s driving it in large part are horticulture and sugar, which are two areas. I would also say that sometimes there’s a tendency, Senator, to solely focus on trade agreements and not understand that there’s work below that process that matters. We’ve calculated roughly $20 billion of trade wins that have occurred in the last couple of years. I’ll just give you a couple of examples: Mexico and potato access, Japan with increased beef quota, India with expanding access to apples, the Phillipines expanded access to pork. Egypt expanded access to poultry. There’s a substantial number of things that have occurred that don’t get the headlines,but that actually result in increased trade. The reality is, we have a much stronger economy than the rest of the world has. When China’s economy suffers, that obviously has an impact and effect on exports as well. So, it’s a combination of factors. Strong American dollar? Do we want a weak dollar? I don’t know, do we want a weak American economy so that people aren’t buying stuff? I don’t know. We’re going to continue to work on this. And I would say as far as trade agreements are concerned, the reality is unless—maybe you think you can pass Trade Promotional Authority —I haven’t seen that happen here in this body, and until it does, it becomes very difficult for us to negotiate a trade agreement when the people we’re negotiating with believe that there are 535 folks—yourself included—that could renegotiate the deal. It’s hard to have a trade agreement without Trade Promotion Authority.”


TUBERVILLE: “Let’s talk a little bit about poultry. Yesterday, the USDA FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) extended the Time-Limited Trial for pork processing facilities, allowing them to continue operating at higher line speeds. As of now, the poultry industry’s line speed waivers are set to expire at the end of March. Can you say whether USDA plans to extend the waivers?”

VILSACK: “I think we will see an extension of this because we want to make sure we get the right information about whether or not line speeds actually do relate to increased worker injury or worker safety. That’s the whole purpose of this, is to try to find out what the facts are. We need to structure these studies in a way that gives us the information. I’m not interested in making decisions on this until I have all the facts. I don’t have all the facts yet.”


TUBERVILLE: “Mr. Secretary, our farmers in Alabama and across the country are struggling to survive—and I know you’ve met with a lot of them, and you’ve probably heard a lot from them—especially our family farms.  Net farm income has fallen $70 billion since 2022– and that’s the fastest and largest decline in U.S. farm profitability, over a two-year period, of time. Overall input costs are up $27 billion since 2021, and up over $100 billion since the last farm bill, driven by rapidly rising interest rates—which we can’t control—record-high labor costs – if you can find labor – and inflationary pressure across all other farm inputs. Our farmers are struggling to keep up with the ever-evolving bureaucratic environment that requires them to hire lawyers and lobbyists to ensure compliance with the endless red-tape Washington forces on them. These are additional costs they really can’t bear, contributing to further consolidation in the Ag industry. Why do you think farmers are leaving the industry and the next generation doesn’t want to keep farming? I mean do you have any answer to that for our farmers?”

VILSACK: “I have several answers. I think one, there’s been a focus on production—we’re talking about a commodity-based system. We’ve encouraged farmers to produce. We’ve suggested ‘you’ve got to get big, or get out.’ That’s been suggested. What we need to do, in my view, is to create alternative market opportunities for small and mid-sized producers so that they aren’t necessarily competing solely and completely in a commodity-based market which is not really designed for them. That’s why it’s important to have local and regional food systems. That’s why it’s important to invest in renewable energy, and create opportunities for that energy to be sold to the local co-op. That’s why it’s important to have climate-smart agriculture, so that you get a value-added proposition. That’s why it’s important for us to create new products like sustainable aviation fuel that can create new commodities with agricultural waste. There’s a multitude of things that we can and are doing to basically create a better opportunity in the future.”

TUBERVILLE: “What I just don’t want to see is what is going on in Europe, you know with all the farmers driving their tractors up and down the roads—”

VILSACK: “Different,completely different approach.”

TUBERVILLE: “I understand that. I understand that, but it’s all about regulations. And the farmers in Alabama, that’s every other call I get, it’s something different that they’re having to face in terms of whether it’s climate change or whether it’s high cost of fertilizer—all the things that are coming at them at once. And the prices aren’t there, and they can’t make a profit. And if we lose our farmers, we are in bad trouble. So, I just want to let you carry that on from people in Alabama. It’s tough times for them, and hopefully this year there’s a good crop, and everything works a lot better than what it has.”

Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.