Welch presses USDA secretary to support Vermont farmers now: 'The Clock is Ticking'

Vermont Business Magazine In a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee Hearing held today, US Senator Peter Welch (D-Vermont) urged United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to support Vermont farmers, producers, and small businesses. Welch, who chairs the Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, outlined several of his Farm Bill priorities, including supporting Vermont’s organic dairy farmers, expanding rural broadband access, protecting forests from invasive species, and broadening the reach of rural energy assistance programs.

“Keeping farmers on the farm—I really think that has got to be the goal. In Vermont, we’re struggling. We are the small and mid-sized farms... They want to pass their work on to the next generation,” said Senator Welch during the hearing.

Watch more here: Senator Welch presses Secretary Vilsack on Farm Bill priorities

An abbreviated transcript of the exchange with Secretary Vilsack on support for organic dairy farms is below:

Senator Welch: Organic dairy [faces] incredible challenges in Vermont. Under-Secretary Moffitt and I went to a sixth-generation organic farm. There’s a $100 million of aid that’s available, and it’s desperately needed. It’s a safety net to keep these folks going. When we had our meeting an organic farmer in the valley asked the right question. Where’s the money? Where’s the money?

Secretary Vilsack: The money is in the process — We’re in the process of streamlining the application. And it’s basically looking at 75% of the future marketing costs of 2023 so we have to have a baseline on which to determine what that 75% is going to be factored against. So, we’re in the process of accumulating that. So, I would expect and anticipate sometime this summer that we’ll have enough information to be able to begin receiving applications. Farmers can look at www.farmers.gov — that’s where all of the information about this particular program will be.

Senator Welch: Okay, I’ll just try to convey the sense of urgency these farmers have – and I know you know it – but I don’t know that they have that much time. Seriously. So, I know you have to go through your procedures, but the Vermont legislature was actually considering trying to supplement or fill in until the money arrived, so the clock is ticking here for these folks. So, anything we can do to speed that up — they really need that help.

Secretary Vilsack: In addition, we also provided additional support under the Market Volatility Assistance Program to dairy producers, and we also put in resources behind the Dairy Innovation Center in Vermont. So, we are putting resources there to provide help and assistance.

Senator Welch: I may be a little bit of a pest because there is such an existential reality, but I appreciate that...

During the hearing, Senator Welch asked several questions related to his 2023 Farm Bill priorities. He encouraged the Secretary to support the ReConnect program, which is crucial in deploying broadband to underserved rural areas across America, requested more funds for farmers and small businesses to help access rural energy efficiency programs, and asked the Secretary how the USDA plans to support the forestry industry and communities facing invasive species, such as the Emerald Ash Borer in Vermont, with rapid response to prevent spread.

Welch serves on the Senate Committees on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Rules and Administration; and Judiciary, as well as the United States Joint Economic Committee.

3.16.2023. WASHINGTON – Senator Welch.