Janie Simms Hipp, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be USDA’s general counsel, assured senators she will work closely with the Justice Department to address concerns meatpackers are using their market power to depress prices paid to producers. 

USDA needs “to be very connected, if you will, with DOJ” as the issue is reviewed, Hipp told the Senate Agriculture Committee during her confirmation hearing Thursday. 

“I've been hearing these issues for as long as I've been an agricultural lawyer, and they seem to ebb and flow in terms of spikes of concern, but I believe that I’m seeing a bipartisan approach to this issue that has risen to level I haven't seen it before,” Hipp told Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. 

Hipp told Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., that the issue was a “very, very high priority.” 

At the outset of the hearing, the committee’s top Republican, John Boozman of Arkansas, called for the committee to hold a hearing on the pricing issues. Producers are "in a very, very difficult situation right now. We need to understand exactly what’s going on in that regard and to begin to offer solutions.”

In response, Stabenow agreed that the committee members should “work together” on the issue “and find solutions.”

Hipp refused to be pinned down on another top concern of Republican senators  whether Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has the legal authority to use the Commodity Credit Corp.. to set up a carbon bank, which could then be used to buy carbon credits. 

Hipp would only say that the CCC “has some very powerful authorities to sit up under and support our farmers and ranchers.” 

She promised Boozman that the Office of General Counsel would be transparent with the committee and explain its legal thinking across the range of issues it deals with. 

“I believe in transparency. I believe in frank discussions. Sometimes, folks misinterpret the law and you have to explain what the law says,” she said. 

On other issues, Hipp pledged that she would work with the Environmental Protection Agency on USDA’s concerns about the implementation of biofuel policy. 

“Sometimes the voices of farmers and ranchers in agriculture get drowned out by other voices, but they haven't heard my voice yet,” she told Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Hipp also assured Klobuchar that she would address farmers' concerns about data that USDA has on their farms. Privacy concerns have slowed efforts by Klobuchar to enable the use of data to assess the impact of conservation practices. 

“I will commit to you to focus on data privacy. I know it is terribly important to farmers and ranchers across the country,” Hipp said. She described herself an “agricultural data nerd” and said her favorite USDA agency is the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

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