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Chair Spanberger Opening Statement at Hearing to Review Implementation of Conservation Programs in the 2018 Farm Bill

Washington, January 28, 2020
Chair Spanberger Opening Statement at Hearing to Review Implementation of Conservation Programs in the 2018 Farm Bill

WASHINGTON- House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry Chair Abigail Spanberger of Virginia delivered the following statement at today's hearing to review implementation of conservation programs in the 2018 Farm Bill.

[As Prepared for Delivery]

"Good Morning. I would like to welcome everyone and thank you all for joining us today as we review USDA’s implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill conservation programs. 

"In 2018, this committee reauthorized the Farm Bill and amended several of the conservation programs. Farmers in my district in Central Virginia know how important these conservation programs are, because they use them to boost soil health, improve water quality, protect wildlife habitat, and reduce soil erosion. By doing that, they can improve crop quality and increase crop yields—all while better adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

"So—we’re now a year-in and we’re watching as those conservation programs take shape. I’ve been glad to see an increased focus on important issues like soil health, water quality, and water supply. Specifically, in the area of soil health, the Farm Bill boosts incentives for soil health practices like cover cropping, crop rotation, and advanced grazing systems. And, a new Soil Health Demonstration Trial provides financial assistance for soil health and carbon-related practices, continuing efforts to test new and innovative conservation approaches. 

"One of the advancements made in the 2018 bill was the encouragement of conservation strategies at the local and regional level. You can appreciate how important that is to my district in the Chesapeake Watershed. Our farmers know what works for their land and for the ecosystems they’ve operated in for generations far better than anyone else. Through voluntary conservation programs like the ones we’ll talk about today, they’re given more of a role in helping to expand clean water and soil strategies in their own operations. 

"Now, our focus should be on implementation and watching to see what’s working, and what—if any—barriers there are to making sure each of these programs is operating in a way that is consistent with what this committee intended when it wrote the bill, and what the overall goals of the program are. I look forward to receiving a candid look at those efforts, as well as a discussion of the agencies’ rulemaking process.

"But when we talk about implementation, we must also talk about the staff doing the implementing. Programs, no matter how good they look on paper, or no matter how noble their goals may be, will only ever be as good as the people delivering them. Because of that, it’s extremely important that both NRCS and FSA are operating at full staff to achieve program benefits. In that regard, there are serious questions about the ability of other USDA agencies to retain and empower staff to achieve their mission, and I want to ensure that isn’t an issue at NRCS and FSA.

"Furthermore, it’s just as important that NRCS and FSA staffers are enabled and equipped by their agencies to deliver these programs in a manner that’s consistent with what we want them to achieve. That means consistent and genuine engagement with farmers and landowners on the ground. 

"We’re not here today to bash the Administration, nor are we here to greenwash the efforts already underway. We’re here for an honest look at where we stand, what’s working, and what needs more time. I look forward to hearing ideas from USDA and from my colleagues on how we do that."
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