WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. John Boozman encouraged U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Thursday to work toward helping lower food prices and increasing global food security.
"Food prices will decrease when the costs from the farm to the fork go down," Boozman said during a Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry hearing. "The answer is more supply. More oil and gas development for lower energy prices. More participation in the labor market. More land in production. And more certainty for our farmers and ranchers."
The hearing, titled "Opportunities and challenges facing farmers, families, and rural communities," comes as Americans continue to see inflation and heightened food prices on items such as eggs, meat and breakfast cereal, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Boozman, the top Republican on the committee, argued that ranchers and farmers are facing higher input costs and declining farm incomes.
"USDA can play a constructive role to help American farmers and ranchers meet the challenges," said the lawmaker from Rogers.
In the backdrop is the ongoing war in Europe, something Boozman says has "choked off" a fairly large portion of the globe's grain and oilseed production.
Vilsack said they are looking at ways to increase "productive land." He said part of the department's responsibility is to provide help and assistance to families who are struggling.
At the hearing, Boozman commended the department for allowing "some additional flexibilities" for people with expiring contracts under the Conservation Reserve Program.
"It's a great step in the right direction," he said. "But I believe that we can do more."
In the program, farmers agree to pull certain land from agricultural production in return for an annual rental payment. A contract under the program, which is administered by the Farm Service Agency, can last between 10 and 15 years.
In a March letter to Vilsack, Boozman asked for a delay in the program's sign-up deadline "until U.S. farmers have a better understanding of potential supply disruptions associated with Russia's invasion of Ukraine."
In the same letter, Boozman urged the agriculture department to focus on policies to increase domestic food production. The lawmaker wrote that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was disrupting U.S. agricultural markets.
"The significant increase in prices is related to supply concerns resulting from the ongoing closure of ports that are key to the export of agricultural commodities from Ukraine," Boozman wrote in the letter.
Also on Thursday, Boozman and the committee's chairwoman, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. announced the committee would conduct a field hearing on the 2023 Farm Bill next month in Jonesboro.
"Our last Farm Bill passed with the most bipartisan support ever. The bipartisan tradition of holding field hearings provides crucial information as we begin the process of writing a new bill," Stabenow said in a statement.
The hearing, set to take place on June 17 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Riceland Hall of the Fowler Center at Arkansas State University, is expected to feature state agricultural producers and industry stakeholders, along with rural community supporters.