Spanberger panel hears from farmers, stockmen

CLINT SCHEMMER, FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE STAR

Healthy soil is good for farm crops, farmers, the future of family farms, and for America’s natural landscapes.

That was the message delivered Tuesday as a House agriculture subcommittee chaired by Rep. Abigail Spanberger heard testimony from representatives of the National Grazing Lands Coalition, Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Soil Health Partnership, and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Farmers and researchers told the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry how soil-health practices mitigate risks and benefit the economy.

Spanberger, D-Henrico, discussed how soil conservation is becoming more popular in Central Virginia. Between 2012 and 2017, Virginia saw its acreage planted with cover crops grow by more than 35 percent.

More than 1 million acres of Virginia cropland are farmed with no-till practices.

Work to reduce erosion and increase fertility also boosts a farmer’s bottom line, Spanberger said.

In her opening statement at Tuesday’s hearing, the congresswoman underscored how soil conservation produces environmental and health benefits for the public. Conservation makes food production more reliable, increases ecosystem biodiversity, filters water more effectively, and could mitigate impacts of climate change, she said.

“Through voluntary soil conservation practices, farmers can often lower their input costs, increase their yields, and make sure their fields are productive for generations to come,” Spanberger said during the hearing.

Last month, in Spanberger’s first hearing as the panel’s chair, the subcommittee focused on implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill’s conservation efforts.

Spanberger was selected in January to chair the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee.

Broadbrand thumbs-up

Also on Tuesday, in a major appropriations package, a bipartisan majority of members of the House of Representatives included Spanberger’s amendment to finance development of more rural broadband access.

The “mini-bus” bill, passed by a 227-194 vote, would provide $383 billion for military construction, science programs, the FDA and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Interior, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural broadband program, called ReConnect, greatly benefits farmers, ranchers, and rural communities by connecting them with the internet, R.J. Karney, congressional relations director of American Farm Bureau Federation, said Tuesday.

“Broadband is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Karney said. “The American Farm Bureau Federation thanks Rep. Spanberger for her leadership and commitment to close the digital divide.”

On Monday, the USDA said it had received applications requesting more than $635 million for rural broadband through its ReConnect loan and grant program, which partners with communities and businesses to help under-served areas.

Last week, Spanberger led the fight to secure an additional $55 million, a 10 percent increase, for the Reconnect program.

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