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Testimony Before The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

of

Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman

Before the

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

September 26, 2001

 

I am very pleased to be here with the Senate Agriculture Committee this morning.  Thanks to Chairman Harkin, Senator Lugar, and the members for the invitation to discuss the Administration’s views on future food and agriculture policy.  I will make a short statement, and then will be pleased to respond to your questions.  I would ask that my longer statement be submitted for the record. 

 

The focus of my statement today is to share with you our views on the agriculture sector of the future and to suggest some guiding principles we have developed from a recent stocktaking exercise.

 

This is a most opportune time to be reviewing the status of our industry and examining the current policies.  The events of the past two weeks clearly have reminded us of the need to re-examine many of the things we long have taken for granted.  The vital role of our food and agriculture system should be near the top of the list.  Thus, I suggest that this current review of our farm policy—the passage of new farm legislation—now should be viewed more broadly and in a different context than we would have just a short time ago.

 

Since the beginning of the year, the occurrence of several major events has thoroughly convinced me of the urgency of a comprehensive review of today’s agriculture—all of the policies, programs, and other supporting public infrastructure. The Foot and Mouth Disease (or FMD) outbreak in the United Kingdom and on the European continent was a major threat to our livestock and grain industries.  We immediately stepped up our border control.  We reviewed and strengthened the already tight protections that USDA had in place.  And, we sent dozens of veterinarians to Europe to help contain the disease and also to learn as much as we can about it.  Fortunately, we have maintained our 72-year record of keeping the United States free of FMD. 

 

The spread of BSE in Europe and the recent find in Japan has enormous implications for beef and feed markets. Our policies to regulate feeding practices and actively test for BSE have protected our consumers, farmers, and ranchers. 

 

The emergence of agricultural biotechnology and its rapid and widespread adoption in this country is posing significant new challenges throughout our food system and the global trading complex.  Agricultural biotechnology holds tremendous promise.  However, the StarLink incident clearly illustrated the importance of continuing to assure a coordinated and rigorous science-based approach to this emerging technology.

 

To date, our food system has stood the test of significant challenges.  And, they serve to reemphasize just how valuable our public infrastructure of specialists, institutions, and facilities are to our agricultural economy.  Our policies, regulations, and supporting institutions must keep pace with new technology, the shifting business environment, and our industry structure.

 

 

TRANSFORMATION TO A CONSUMER DRIVEN AGRICULTURE

Agriculture is being influenced by many of the same forces that are shaping the American economy of the 21st century:  globalization of markets and culture; advances in information, biological, and other technologies; and fundamental changes in our family structure and workforce.  The combination of these forces has now produced a decided shift from the commodity-based, surplus-oriented, production focus of the last century to one now defined by products, services, markets, and consumers.  Increasingly, our consumers insist on defining what is produced, how food production takes place, and with what effects.  The food system now is clearly consumer-driven.

 

Several examples show how consumers are driving changes in our food system: 

 

Ø      Changing lifestyles and greater demands for convenience mean that forty-five percent of total food spending is now away from home.

Ø      Food marketing is changing as warehouse club stores and specialty stores are gaining popularity.  The supermarket share of grocery food sales fell from 78 to 70 percent in five years between 1992 and 1997.

Ø      With more than 96 percent of the world’s population living outside the United States, exports already account for some 25 percent of total farm sales and represent the largest potential growth market for the future.  Access to these markets not only requires overcoming barriers created by high tariffs but also different cultures, languages, and preferences for food. 

Ø      Changes in exports mirror the fundamental importance of consumer demand with growth in trade of high-value products.  Both U.S. and global exports of commodities continue to grow, but exports of high-value products (meats, poultry, fruits and vegetables, and processed products) are growing even more rapidly and now account for two-thirds of total export sales, compared with only half in 1990. 

Ø      The food industry is more closely coordinated the supply chain to swiftly translate consumer signals into products.  By establishing direct ties to growers through contracts, food retailers better ensure that product qualities are tailored to consumer requirements.  While some producers are concerned that the increased contracting has limited price information and made repercussions for farm structure, farmers in turn benefit by having an assured buyer and receiving premium prices for products with desired characteristics.  In 2000, two-thirds of hogs were sold under contracts, in contrast to only 1 percent in 1970. 

Ø      To maintain the high level of consumer confidence in the safety of our food, diverse interests are working together. State Quality Assurance Plans, voluntary agreements that provide guidelines for safe food production and sound environmental practices, have been adopted in California and other states for commodities including eggs, produce, and dairy. 

Ø      Food safety policy that brings together Government, industry, and the research community has also worked.  The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point pathogen-reduction system (HACCP) has been fully implemented, and we see the prevalence of Salmonella on raw meat and poultry products continue to decline.  Sustained reductions in some food borne illness also can be seen in recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

Agricultural Diversity

At the same time the market environment is changing, we are increasingly aware of the enormous changes that are occurring in our farm sector. A concentration of resources into fewer and larger farms occurred throughout the 20th century.  While production doubled over the last 50 years, farm numbers dropped by more than two-thirds. Today, about 150,000 American farmers produce most of our food and fiber. While among the world’s most competitive farms, these commercial operations make up just one segment of U.S. agriculture.   USDA counts another two million plus farmers who meet the criterion of potential sales of at least $1,000 of agricultural products annually, including many people with non-farm occupations but who enjoy rural lifestyles.

 

A vast diversity of businesses and households emerges out of this multitude: niche farms, hobby farms, hunting preserves, dude ranches, you-pick operations, farms that sell directly to consumers through farmer's markets, bed and breakfasts, and more.

 

Farmers produce scores of different commodities every year and countless varieties of products, even though bulk commodities—such as cotton, corn, wheat, and other food and feed grains that are the focus of government programs—symbolize agriculture for many.  These program crops, grown on almost every farm in the 1930s, are produced today on only 30 percent of all farms and account for just 20 percent of the total value of agricultural sales.

 

In the 1930s, when price and income support programs first were developed, there was little need to distinguish among farms, farmers, or farm households. In fact, farms and households (and farming communities, in many cases) were closely intertwined as a way of life and were considered inseparable. Today, fewer farmers are full time, choosing to merge farm and nonfarm employment opportunities.  While income from farming, as measured by net cash farm income, was $55.7 billion in 1999, off-farm sources contributed $124 billion.

 

The widespread importance of off-farm income illustrates that for the majority of farm households, the vitality of the general economy is far more important to their well being than the level of commodity prices.  This is reflected in the reversal of the long-term trend of declining farm numbers to the 1990s and modest increases since 1996.  The long-time prosperity in the general economy accounts for this, particularly boosting small farm numbers that primarily serve as rural residences. 

 

Forces Driving Change

Today, a number of very powerful forces are propelling the fast-paced changes occurring in every single component of the food system.  Globalization—the growing competitive pressure from closer integration of business all around the world—along with a broad range of new technologies, from information advances to biotechnology, are converging to further alter the farm and food system as we know it.  Understanding the nature of these “drivers” helps define the needs for the agriculture and food system of the future.

 

Global Markets. Political boundaries no longer constrain the conduct of good business, and this includes agribusiness. Better, faster, more reliable communications and transportation systems facilitate businesses’ abilities to produce, source, and sell in the locations that give them best advantage, even if that means operating in multiple locations around the world. This globalization of markets pressures firms to be more competitive and to “shorten the supply chain” (reducing the number of business transactions and their associated costs) in order to meet rapidly changing consumer demand.

 

Businesses in the food system around the world compete against each other to provide high-quality products at the best price.  Globalization makes it imperative for companies to diversify their sources of raw materials and buy from the farmer, wholesaler, or food processing company that provides the best product for the lowest price at any given time. We can no longer think of our agriculture as being confined to what takes place within our borders.  It is part of a larger, worldwide interconnected system.

 

Technological Innovation. New technology not only has facilitated the growth of global markets by reducing the constraint of geography, but also spurred remarkable adaptation of the U.S. food and agricultural system to new global conditions and demands. Agricultural technology traditionally focused on tools and techniques to lower farm costs and increase yields. Today, new biological and information technologies actually expand markets for farmers and assure better communication between producers and consumers, further increasing market opportunities.

 

The extent that technology already has transformed most aspects of the food and agriculture system shows the enormous promise for developing new markets, increasing our competitiveness, ensuring the safety of our food, and solving environmental problems.  A few examples show why we see agriculture is future filled with exciting new opportunities for our farmers and food system.

 

Ø      “Precision agriculture” promises both greater production efficiency and coordination of input application with environmental considerations.  A growing number of farms currently use sensors, automated responses to monitored variables, robotic machinery, and other high-tech means to optimize both production efficiency and environmental quality.

Ø      Production and processing technologies are opening entirely new markets for the farm sector.  In addition to the traditional nutrition market, farmers soon will have opportunities in energy, industrial, and pharmacological markets around the globe.  Biologically based technologies are particularly promising as the source of new products for farmers. 

Ø      Moreover, agriculture already is the source of clean-burning fuel and industrial ethanol, a variety of specialty chemicals derived from plants, soy-based inks and diesel fuel, industrial adhesives, biopolymers, and films. Scientists now say that soybean oil could replace a significant share of petroleum-based resin used in manufacturing auto parts.

Ø      Research can provide solutions to food safety by reducing the threat of foodborne disease before an animal even becomes food.  Scientists are working on feed additives to eliminate pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli 0157: H7 from hogs’ and cows’ intestinal tracts before slaughter.

Ø      Packaging technology is revolutionizing ways in which foods can be marketed.  An example is the development of “breathable” bags that preserve washed and mixed, ready-to-eat salad greens, baby carrots and sliced apples that gave rise to an entirely new value-added-segment of the food industry with over a billion dollars in sales.

 

 

NEW REALITIES FOR THE FOOD SYSTEM

All of the things I have just described clearly characterize a far different farm and food system operating in a far more complex business environment than in the past.  The situation today also is far different than when many of our policies, programs, regulations, and other aspects of the public infrastructure were put in place.

 

Thus an opportune time to consider whether the public policies, institutions, and investments that have served the sector so well in the past century are still the most relevant and effective.  Reflection on our experiences and the profound changes in the farm and food system can suggest the basis for principles to guide review and development of new policy approaches, revamped institutions, and redirected investments.

 

Mr. Chairman, how we approach these issues will set the course for American agriculture for the next decade and beyond, and I would like to discuss our assessment of several important areas. Trade leads the list, given the enormous importance of global markets to all parts of our food system.

 

 

TRADE EXPANSION IS CRITICAL

Trade is critically important to the long-term economic health and prosperity of our food and agricultural sector.  We have far more capacity than needed to meet domestic food market requirements. To avoid excess capacity throughout our system -- including farmland, transportation, processing, financing, and other ancillary services -- we must aggressively expand our sales to customers abroad. Clearly, without the salutary effects of an expanding export market, farm prices and net cash incomes would be significantly lower today.

 

More than 96 percent of the world’s population lives outside the United States. Most growth in food demand will be in developing and middle income countries, where both population and income are growing relatively rapidly. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggests that by 2020, 85 percent of the increase in global demand for cereals and meat will occur in developing countries and that the demand for meat in the developing world could double.

 

Greater access to foreign markets requires aggressive trade policy to lower tariffs and eliminate trade-distorting subsidies.  Failure to provide strong leadership in global trade liberalization will result in our producers and exporters being left behind.  Other nations are aggressively pursuing preferential agreements, many right in this hemisphere that could preclude us from markets where we have important cost advantages.

 

Let me be very clear.  We must help our farmers expand into new markets if they are going to succeed in this ever-changing environment.  Otherwise, they will be left behind.  We need the tools – like TPA – to open new markets and reduce tariffs.

 

We must also ensure that domestic farm support and international trade policies are consistent and mutually reinforcing.  It makes no sense to have trade policies and programs promoting farm exports at the same time domestic support programs inadvertently reduce competitiveness.  Our domestic and export policy not only must support our existing international obligations but at the same time give us ample latitude in pursuing ambitious goals in ongoing and future negotiations.

 

 

FARM SECTOR POLICY

With regard to farm sector policy, it is useful at the outset to reaffirm that this Administration continues to view the farm sector as both critically important and unique.  We believe our society agrees and embraces the concept of an economic safety net for our producers, to help cushion occasional adverse financial circumstances that are clearly beyond their control.  The task then becomes one of defining such a safety net that is both appropriate for our diverse producers and suitable for the times.

 

More than seven decades of farm policy have provided a rich, full experience upon which to draw as we contemplate appropriate 21st Century policies for our industry. Our experience with policies and programs during this time has proved very instructive, helping us to avoid the mistakes of the past. History also shows that growth in farm income has been due largely to rapid improvements in productivity resulting from a strong research base and better opportunities to market products including export markets.  Farm household income has benefited enormously from off-farm employment opportunities. 

 

Many of the program approaches since the 1930s did not meet their objectives, produced unexpected and unwanted consequences, became far costlier than expected, and have been continually modified in our long succession of farm laws.   Some major, and still highly relevant, lessons learned include: 

 

·        History has shown that supporting prices is self-defeating.  Government attempts to hold prices above those determined by commercial markets have made matters worse time after time.  Artificially higher prices encouraged even more unneeded output from the most efficient producers at the same time they discouraged utilization, consequently pushing surpluses higher and prices lower.  Costs to taxpayers grew until the point was reached where something more had to be done.  All too often, that turned out to be finding ways to restrict output. 

·        Supply controls proved costly to taxpayers and consumers and the unused resources were a drag on overall economic performance.  But, perhaps most important, limiting our acreage was a signal to our competitors in other countries to expand theirs, and we lost market share that is always difficult to recapture.

 

·        Government Stockholding and reserve plans distort markets.  While isolating stocks from the market when supplies are abundant is attractive for its short-term stimulus, such stocks eventually must be returned to the market, and they limit the recovery of prices.  Moreover, time after time, stocks have proved costly to maintain, distorted normal marketing patterns, ceded advantage to competitors, and proved tempting targets for political tampering.

 

·        Program benefits often produced unintended (and unwanted) consequences.  The rapidly changing farm sector structure produced a wide array of farm sizes and efficiencies.  Many farms were low cost and the programs were of enormous benefit, enabling them to expand their operations.  Others did not receive sufficient benefits to remain viable and thus were absorbed along the way. 

 

The clarity of these lessons provided several emphatic turning points in national policy.  The 1985 farm law proved to be one such point when, after long debate on fundamental philosophy, a more market-oriented approach was adopted.  That market orientation was extended in the 1990 farm law, reducing government intrusion and expense in farmer decision-making and in the operation of the markets. 

 

The Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform (FAIR) Act of 1996 proved to be historic by removing most of the decades-old program structure, provided unparalleled farmer decision-making flexibility through “decoupled” benefits, and set a new example throughout the world for providing domestic farm sector support.  While that approach still is arguably the least market--and resource use--distorting approach available, its direct decoupled payments do share some unintended effects with price support programs, namely the artificial inflation of farmland prices.  The effect clearly has been exacerbated by the size of supplemental payments in recent years, some $28 billion in the last four years above the amount provided in the 1996 law.

 

Another unintended consequence of current programs stems from the increasing disconnect between land ownership and farm operation.  While program benefits were intended to help farm operators, most support eventually accrues to landowners, in the short run through rising rental rates and in the longer term through capitalization into land values. For many farm operators, renting land is a key strategy to expand the size of the business and capture the size economies, as evidenced by 42 percent of farmers renting land in 1999.  Operators farming mostly rented acreage may receive little benefit from the programs. 

 

The 1996 FAIR Act also continued the marketing loan program, another evolution of the old price support idea, but importantly modified to avoid government stockholding, which proved so burdensome in times past.  Marketing loan payments effectively provide a large counter cyclical component to farm income, but distort markets by limiting the production response to falling market prices. The program guarantees a price for traditional program commodities (food grains, feed grains, and cotton) and oilseeds.  As market prices have fallen below this guaranteed price, total marketing loan benefits have risen from less than $200 million for the 1997 crop year to $8 billion for the 1999 and $7.3 billion to date for the 2000 crops.  Since 1996, counter cyclical marketing loan benefits have totaled about $20 billion.

 

While the current policy made large strides towards greater market orientation, a careful evaluation in the context of today's diverse farm structure and increasingly consumer-driven marketplace still reveals severe misalignment among policy goals, policy mechanisms, and outcome.  New approaches could support and help sustain prosperity for farmers, agriculture and rural communities without engendering long-term dependence on direct government support.

 

Above all, effective farm policies for the new century must build upon the lessons learned from over seven decades of rich experience with the farm programs.  Even the most carefully designed government intervention often distorts markets and resource allocation, produces unintended consequences and spreads benefits unevenly.  We cannot afford to keep relearning the lessons of the past.

 

Effective agricultural policies must recognize the wide diversity in the farm sector itself, in terms of size, location, financial status, crop and livestock products produced, managerial abilities, income sources, and goals and aspirations.  The problems faced by various groups are widely different and require solutions tailored to effectively address particular needs. 

 

Our policies should provide a market‑oriented economic safety net for farmers.   The national recognition that the farm sector is both unique and essential is long standing and widely held.  The result is a parallel commitment to policies that support open markets and those that prevent excessive downturns in the farm sector.  Thus, these programs must conform to basic public policy principles including effectiveness, transparency, equity, consistency, comprehensiveness and trade competitiveness.  Current policies now take several forms including counter cyclical loans, crop and revenue insurance and direct payments, but could be constructed with other programs (such as tax‑deferred income accounts) that fully comply with such principles.

 

 

ENHANCING THE INFRASTRUCTURE

Mr. Chairman, the next topic that I will discuss has received little attention thus far in the ongoing policy discussions, but is one that I will argue is of enormous and growing importance.  And, that topic is what we are calling our “agriculture infrastructure,” the fundamental public sector underpinning for our industry.

 

U.S. agriculture successfully delivers abundant, affordable, safe and nutritious food to markets worldwide. Nothing has been more important to this success than an extensive physical and institutional infrastructure—in effect, the backbone of the food and agricultural system. The agricultural infrastructure includes research, information, inspection, monitoring, testing, promotion—all of the basic services, facilities, equipment, and institutions needed for the economic growth and efficient functioning of the food and fiber markets. It means services to protect farmers and ranchers from the threats of crop and animal pests and consumers from foodborne diseases, the research and cooperative extension system that undergirds production, marketing and regulatory functions, food product inspection, nutrition information, and natural resource conservation.  It means all other functions of USDA agencies, as well as farm service centers, data, information technologies and intellectual property management.

 

We need to evaluate this broad infrastructure with a long term view as to what is required for a healthy and prosperous farm and food sector and trading system and, very importantly, to ensure that it continues to engender widespread consumer confidence and support.  This may entail refocusing institutions and their missions, modernizing and better coordinating infrastructure and perhaps expanding investment in parts of the system.

 

It is difficult to overstate the importance of science as the basis for our decisions. Regardless of good intentions, no program, no mandate, no request, or emergency action can be carried out unless the appropriate research base, scientists, laboratories, methods, data and information, institutions, and technologies are available. New science is needed to ensure that required regulations in food safety, animal and plant health, environment and other areas, are sound and cost-effective.

 

Enhancing our pest and disease prevention for plants and animals from whatever source is a growing priority.  Science, technology, and intergovernmental cooperation are key to keeping crop and animal pests and diseases out of the United States, and to managing the pest and disease challenges we face inside our borders.  For, example, we worked with the EPA to develop a new protocol for environmental inspectors visiting farms for any reason. 

 

Similarly we must build on current success in providing safe food for all Americans.  Emerging pathogens mean that our food safety systems must be continually assessed and updated in order to maintain consumer confidence in our food supply.  Improved animal production systems, better pathogen control during processing and distribution, and increased education on food safety issues and on food handling and preparation practices for consumers and food retailers all help to strengthen the food safety system.

 

 

CONSERVATION AND ENVIRONMENT

Now, Mr. Chairman, I turn to conservation, another area that is receiving increased attention both in the farm sector and throughout rural America.  Our conservation policy has evolved from an early focus of keeping productive topsoil in place.  Reducing soil erosion was an overriding concern, and became a primary accomplishment.  We now realize that the off-farm effects of farming include a wide variety of environmental impacts.  Thus, conservation policy has evolved to incorporate broader measures of water and air quality, as well as protection of wildlife habitat and wetlands.  Moreover, emerging issues gaining public attention include nutrient runoff from livestock production, water conservation, energy production, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

 

As the scope of environmental concerns has expanded, a wider range of conservation policy instruments is needed to address them. Traditional land retirement (the Conservation Reserve Program) has dominated Federal spending on conservation since 1985; 92 cents of every dollar spent on direct conservation payments to farmers pays for rental and easement payments for idling environmentally sensitive cropland and cost sharing for management practices that enhance the environmental benefits from retired lands.  However, considerable conservation activities are carried out on vast stretches of working lands due to voluntary actions and to comply with conservation compliance and other regulatory requirements.

 

We should continue to improve our approaches and tools, ensuring that farmers have access to conservation programs that fit their needs.  Technical assistance, incentives for improved practices on working farm and forestlands, compensation for environmental achievements long-term and permanent easements, and continued dedication of certain farmland and private forestlands to environmental use will provide a coordinated and flexible multi-faceted approach to achieve agri-environmental goals.

 

 

RURAL COMMUNITIES

Another topic that I believe deserves a fresh look and requires new approaches is our rural communities.  Farming no longer anchors most rural economies as it did in the early 20th century.  Seven out of eight rural counties are now dominated by varying concentrations of manufacturing, services, and other non-farming activities, and current commodity-based farm policies do not address the complexities of rural economies and populations. Jobs and incomes are declining in many areas dependent on natural resource-based industries, while other places, often associated with the provision of rural amenities, are thriving.

 

We must recognize that rural development policy is not synonymous with agricultural policy.  Traditional commodity support and farming-oriented development programs play an increasingly limited role in the improved well-being of rural Americans. Instead, in something of a reversal, the nonfarm economy now anchors much of agriculture, and rural policy for the 21st century must recognize the increased importance of nonfarm jobs and income as the drivers of rural economic activity.  

 

Creating an environment that will attract and sustain private investment, job growth, and income generation activities in rural America, including regional development initiatives and creative pilot programs, is an overriding goal.

 

Our rural policies should emphasize the need for greater education and technical skills.  In the past, many rural areas hosted industries that required a reliable pool of low-skilled, low-cost workers.  Employers are now more attracted to concentrations of well-educated and skilled workers.  Education and worker training are essential in helping rural communities cultivate high-performance, knowledge-based companies, while human capital and earnings potential are improved by strengthening classroom instructional quality and facilitating school-to-work transitions.   

 

Policies that find alternative methods to increase rural income from the natural resource base, such as energy production, are also important. Dedicated crops and agricultural residues can be used to produce fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, and biomass to power turbines to produce electricity. Rural areas are well suited for the development of renewable wind and solar energy due to the open spaces.

 

 

NUTRITION AND FOOD ASSISTANCE

Next, I will touch on a major accomplishment of our food and agriculture policy, ensuring that all Americans have access to a healthy and nutritious food supply, regardless of income.  This policy has encompassed a wide array of food assistance and nutrition programs that have humanitarian, investment, and agricultural support goals.  Core efforts include the Food Stamp Program, child nutrition programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and commodity distribution programs.  Today, these nutrition assistance programs serve one in every six Americans at some point during the year.  In addition to ensuring access to adequate food, the programs promote healthy diets for all Americans.

 

We should continue our commitment to a national nutrition safety net.  A well-nourished population is healthier, more productive, and better able to learn.  No child or needy family should be left behind for want of food.  The national nutrition safety net, including WIC, should be supported and targeted to those most in need. 

 

While the problems of hunger and food insecurity remain significant, important new problems are emerging related to diet quality—the proper variety and quantities of foods and nutrients in an individual’s diet to promote their health and well-being. American consumers must become more aware of the link between diets, health, and physical activity, and motivated to make appropriate changes.  To this end, we believe that any proposal to reauthorize the Food Stamp program must address these issues, as well as foster the transition to work and self-sufficiency, simplify the program rules to reduce administrative complexity and improve program effectiveness and accountability.

 

 

IMPORTANCE OF INTEGRATED PROGRAMS

Finally, Mr. Chairman, I turn to an area that is especially relevant to those of us at USDA, and that is delivering services to our widely diverse constituency using the most effective means now at our disposal.

 

Changing circumstances strongly suggest the need for reflection on the program delivery needs of the future. The issues facing the modern food and farm system today are so multifaceted and complex that they cannot be solved by any one program or approach. Protecting against plant and animal pests and diseases, or eliminating emerging foodborne pathogens, or overcoming the barriers to producing bioenergy efficiently, or ensuring nutritious food for low income households, or encouraging cost-effective carbon sequestration on farms and in forests – all of these require a cooperative approach among agencies.

 

A number of approaches can be taken to substantially improve service, even without major, additional restructuring. These include: one-stop shopping for delivery of services; sharing data, information, and computing environments across agencies and programs; and new flexibility for increased coordination and sharing of resources, both human and financial.  Advances in information technology should allow agencies, at very low cost, to share key data so that customers can be spared the burden of providing the same information to multiple Federal offices.

 

In providing services, we will encourage a coordinated view of functions and services, including instituting a range of practices, including “one-stop- shopping” for USDA services, common electronic work environments, consistent data across agencies, data sharing, and increased resource flexibility among agencies, that encourage a “corporate” rather than a fragmented view toward program implementation. 

 

            Coordination extends beyond the Department and we will pursue partnership opportunities.  Continued and increased cooperation and partnership opportunities need to be sought with program beneficiaries; Congress; consumers; industry; NGOs; state and local governments; universities; and others.

 

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Mr. Chairman, our entry into a new century presents leaders in agriculture a unique opportunity to discharge our responsibility.  We now have an opportunity to take the long view—to step back and determine as best as we can the future requirements of our food system and to put in place the plans and investments that will be necessary to enable it to serve us as well in the decades ahead as it has in the past.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our vision and to share the guiding principles we have developed. Our report, Food and Agriculture Policy:  Taking Stock for the New Century is available on the USDA website (www.usda.gov).  We look forward to the opportunity to work with you in the future, and I will be pleased to respond to any questions.

 

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