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Click here to view and download video from today’s hearing.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee today, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) questioned U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on several important topics for Nebraska and rural America. Among the issues covered were trade, safeguarding the Renewable Fuel standard, and deploying broadband infrastructure. A full transcript of Fischer’s exchange with Secretary Perdue is below.

Last year, Senator Fischer hosted Secretary Perdue on her ranch south of Valentine, Nebraska, for a roundtable discussion with Nebraska ranchers.

Partial transcript of today’s hearing below:

Senator Fischer: Mr. Secretary, welcome. As you are well aware, there is a lot of anxiety in farm country. In Nebraska, one in four jobs are tied directly to production agriculture. We have seen current net farm income down 50% in the last five years, coupled with this uncertainty surrounding our international trade and the RFS, farmers and ranchers are feeling scared and they are feeling vulnerable. It is imperative that we provide them the necessary tools and technology that allows them to provide for their families and protect their livelihood. Two weeks ago, you and I sat together in the cabinet room at the White House and were directly across from President Trump. We discussed the importance of international trade to rural states like Nebraska. In 2016, Nebraska was the fifth largest agricultural exporting state in the country, exporting nearly $6.6 billion in agricultural goods. Access to those foreign markets is clearly important. It’s imperative to our state. I was also very pleased to recently host Under Secretary Ted McKinney in Omaha at the very beef plant that sent the first shipment of US beef to China. Nebraskans understand accessing new markets provides a trickledown effect for growth opportunities in numerous sectors across our economy. I know we have talked a lot about trade today, we continue to talk about it every single day and the importance that it has for our agricultural communities. I would like to ask you, sir, what actions is the USDA taking to promote foreign market development access? Because we do have opportunities there in your department.

Secretary Perdue: As you mentioned, your delight in meeting with Under Secretary McKinney. He hasn’t just been in Nebraska, he’s been around the world. India twice, Japan, China, the Indo-Pacific region, really knocking on doors. I view him as our chief salesmen around the world and we have a lot of products to sell that people want. The challenge is knocking down those protectionist barriers in many countries such as India and other places. We need to be very aggressive. Probably from a business prospective we shouldn’t be reliant on China alone anyway. We want to go around the world. [Under Secretary McKinney] has been to the western hemisphere, South America, as well as all of the Eastern Hemisphere looking for sales.

Senator Fischer:  Also at the meeting that you and I were at with the president, he did bring up E-15 to be sold year around. I know many members here today have already expressed concern over where Administrator Pruitt is headed on that. I would echo Senator Ernst words to you just a few minutes ago about the Administrator’s commitment that he gave to her. He also gave a commitment to me that he would uphold the letter of the law. We will continue to advocate to the president on that situation. I thank you for your information that you provide to the administration about first of all, following the law, and what the law is with concerns to the RFS. It does not expire until 2022. Many of us here know that and will continue to bring that to everyone’s attention.

I got to welcome you to our ranch about a year ago in May. May 20th, woke up with snow on the ground and we had a great meeting with many of our neighbors…I asked you to open up your phone to see if you had cell service, and you didn’t. We don’t have cell service at our ranch and in many places across the state of Nebraska and these rural areas where we have a sparsely populated group. I would stress to you the importance of broadband deployment and ask you what the department is doing to help see that brought to fruition through many rural areas in America, but also in the urban areas that need it as well. What are you looking at?

Secretary Perdue: Senator, we appreciate the $600 million that was placed in the omnibus that will give us the opportunity to develop pilots with the idea of not a concentrated laser focus, but pilots that demonstrate how this can be deployed across the United States. It’s not going to be done for $600 million, we hope to use that as money to optimize and leverage other money from the private sector, be that rural utility co-ops, rural telephone co-ops, or the private sector in order to reach areas like yours that depend on broadband connectivity. It is the interstate highway of the 21st Century. We are going to continue to see rural demise and demographic changes in those areas if we don’t provide those kind of amenities.