Senator Seeks Continued USDA, Forest Service Support for Southwest Miss. Rural Economic Development Project Authorized in 2018 Farm Bill

042221 Ag Confirmation Hearing
Video:  Senator Hyde-Smith Addresses Mississippi Issues at USDA Deputy Secretary Confirmation Hearing.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today looked to ensure continued strong federal support for the next steps to facilitate the transfer of 150-acres of the Homochitto National Forest at Okhissa Lake in Franklin County for a rural economic development project.

Hyde-Smith sought support for the project from Deputy Secretary of Agriculture nominee, Dr. Jewel Hairston Bronaugh, Ph.D., during her Senate Agriculture Committee confirmation hearing Thursday.  If confirmed, Bronaugh would help oversee the U.S. Forest Service as the second highest official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“The Forest Service has worked diligently with Scenic Rivers and the transfer is nearly complete,” Hyde-Smith said.  “The development plan for the land includes a lodge-style hotel, conference center, and many other amenities to attract visitors to this remote region and really pretty area of my state.  I am confident it will bring tremendous economic benefits to this largely rural and underserved area.  An updated master plan for the Homochitto National Forest to complement Scenic River’s development plan in a significant way is something that we really need from the Forest Service.”

Hyde-Smith, who secured the 2018 Farm Bill provision authorizing the Okhissa Lake property transfer to the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance, asked Bronaugh for a commitment to “ensure the U.S. Forest Service continues working closely with Scenic Rivers Development Alliance to ensure maximum benefits from this exciting rural economic development project that we’re all so excited about.”

Bronaugh agreed, stating, “I will confer with the Forest Service to ensure that they are able to work closely with the Scenic River project to identify any other challenges and issues.”

Hyde-Smith also sought Bronaugh’s commitment for the USDA to help protect American agricultural interests from the harmful effects of a U.S. International Trade Commission countervailing duty investigation on phosphate fertilizer imports from Morocco.  

“Since the initiation of this case, the uncertainty of available fertilizer supplies has driven costs up—at a time when commodity prices are just beginning to rebound.  Now is not the time to increase costs to farmer by as much as 25 to 30 percent.  We are hearing a lot from our farmers, as you can imagine, on this cost increase,” Hyde-Smith said.  “If confirmed, will you ensure that USDA remains engaged with the Department of Commerce to be a voice for American agriculture producers as this process continues?”
Bronaugh, currently commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, responded, “I look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack and International Trade Commission to ensure we are in a competitive position to have a solid and affordable supply of phosphate fertilizer.”

Hyde-Smith sought the same commitment from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack during his confirmation hearing in early February.