U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger, Chair of the House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, today led a hearing focused on the impact COVID-19 and the ensuing economic crisis have had on Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs, and what challenges or successes lawmakers and NRCS officials can learn from to improve program performance and flexibility for farmers and landowners in the coming months.
In her opening statement, Spanberger stressed the dual economic and environmental benefits of voluntary conservation programs, and she highlighted the role that NRCS programs and staff could play in jumpstarting the recovery of agricultural producers ravaged by months of adverse weather, pandemic conditions, fluctuating demand, and market uncertainty. Given how drastically the agricultural world has changed since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, Spanberger also invited the witnesses to provide their insight and recommendations on adjustments that could be made to NRCS programs to increase flexibility and more effectively support the conservation work that farmers are pursuing during this challenging time.
“Lawmakers have worn out the word ‘unprecedented’ in recent months, but it is truly difficult to overstate how volatile this year has been for both the NRCS and the American farmers, ranchers, and foresters they serve,” said Spanberger. “For months, producers have been dealing with the disruptive impact that COVID-19 has had on their own lives, businesses, and localities. On top of that, they have had to reckon with a deepening economic crisis, continued instability in the markets, and destructive weather events from coast to coast.”
“Amid all these considerations, NRCS has had to think creatively about how best to provide the education, support, and access that farmers need to fully participate in voluntary conservation programs. I appreciate the NRCS’s persistence in difficult circumstances – as many family farms struggle to survive, their work has never been more vital. In my own district, I’ve heard from Central Virginia producers about the multitude of ways that conservation techniques can put farmers on stronger financial footing while also improving our climate and protecting our soil and water. I thank all our witnesses for their contributions today, and I look forward to further discussion on how we can make conservation programs an ongoing part of American agriculture’s long-term economic recovery.”
“Chairwoman Spanberger led a critical discussion in today’s hearing,” said U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN-07). “Farm bill conservation programs are an important tool for farmers and ranchers across the country as they look to take care of their land and manage successful farming operations in this turbulent economy.”
This hearing builds on Spanberger’s efforts to amplify the voice of farmers in the national conservation around climate change and other environmental issues, and to leverage conservation techniques as a tool for improving producers’ bottom line. Last week, Spanberger called for a stronger partnership between American farmers – many of who have been utilizing voluntary conservation methods to improve their land for decades – and the coalition of advocates and lawmakers focused on combatting climate change.
In January 2020, Spanberger chaired a Subcommittee hearing with former NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Services Agency (FSA) Administrator Richard Fordyce on the status of the implementation of changes made to conservation programs under the 2018 Farm Bill. In December 2019, Spanberger led a Subcommittee hearing focused on expanding access to USDA conservation programs for historically underserved farmers, such as first-generation, women, and minority farmers.