On February 28, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing titled “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture”, with US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack.  Legislators agreed on the significance of collaborative efforts to devise a farm bill that aids farmers and rural communities. Discussions highlighted concerns about the agricultural economy, including a potential decline in net farm income; rising inflation and interest rates; and the challenges of regulatory environments and falling commodity prices. Legislators also discussed the necessity for enhanced risk management tools for farmers; the effects of certain regulations on independent pork producers; and California’s Proposition 12. Secretary Vilsack noted that the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) program has awarded over 5,800 grants and is working to spread the word about that program and others. The Secretary suggested that the most impactful way to help a greater number of farms, especially smaller ones, is to encourage the establishment of cooperatives, whereby farms produce energy and provide the excess energy to Rural Electric Cooperatives and municipal utilities that are looking to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Secretary Vilsack also acknowledged the suggestion to have non-competitive technical assistance programing that is available specifically for towns experiencing emergencies. He noted that, to make that possible, Rural Development would need to be given the resources, ability, and permission from Congress.