U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), incoming chair of the U.S. Senate Ag Committee, outlined initial priority items her committee expects to address in the 117th Congress. Previewing plans during a conference call with agricultural media, Jan. 28, Stabenow said any discussions on Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) reform are not yet on the agenda, although she anticipates the topic will come up.
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Specific to dairy, Stabenow said she was pleased additional funding for milk and dairy products to feed the needy, as well as creation of a $400 million Dairy Donation Program, were part of the in the latest COVID-19 stimulus package. Based on preliminary 2020 estimates, Stabenow’s home state of Michigan ranks sixth in the U.S. for milk production.

With the Senate evenly split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, the makeup of the Senate Ag Committee will have an equal number of members from each party, Stabenow said. The committee will be co-led by Sen. John Boozman (R-Arkansas). Complete committee membership has not yet been announced.

The committee’s first item of business will be confirmation of Tom Vilsack and Jewel Bronaugh as USDA secretary and deputy secretary, respectively. A confirmation hearing on Vilsack is scheduled for Tuesday morning, Feb. 2.

Vilsack served as U.S. ag secretary for eight years in the Obama administration and has served as president and executive officer (EO) of the U.S. Dairy Export Council for the past several years. Since May 2018, Bronaugh has served as commissioner for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and previously served as Virginia's state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency.


Beyond the confirmation hearing, Stabenow said the Senate Ag Committee focus would aggressively seek to address several items highlighted by President Joe Biden, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. She said policies that create jobs and economic opportunities for farm and rural residents would be high on the list.

“From the ongoing pandemic to the devastating climate crisis – our farmers, families and rural communities need help,” Stabenow said. “My vision for the committee revitalizes our food and farm economy to grow new opportunities in American agriculture and provide access to healthy food for American families.”

Stabenow said a component of policies addressing climate change would be to create voluntary, producer-led programs that help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating new sources of income from the adoption of practices that store more carbon in soil and trees.

Among other key items on the Senate Ag Committee agenda are:

  • Respond to COVID-19 to address the hunger crisis and repair a “broken” food supply chain
  • Fight childhood hunger with stronger child nutrition programs
  • Create jobs and improve the quality of life in rural America, prioritizing rural investment in expanded high-speed internet, small business support and rural clean energy jobs

Longer term, Stabenow said the committee would begin to lay the groundwork for the next federal farm bill.  end mark