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Chairwoman Plaskett Statement at Hearing on Economic Opportunities from Local Agricultural Markets

Chairwoman Plaskett Statement at Hearing on Economic Opportunities from Local Agricultural Markets

WASHINGTON- House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Chairwoman Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands issued the following statement for the record at today's hearing on economic opportunities from local agricultural markets. 

(As Prepared for Delivery)

"Good morning and thank you for joining us as we discuss how farmers and ranchers across the country are capitalizing off local agricultural markets. 

"Today’s farmers and ranchers have an incredibly challenging job.  We expect these individuals to feed a growing world, be good stewards of the land, and navigate an increasingly complex global economy.  While these ideals are admirable, farmers and ranchers ultimately cannot achieve these goals if their operations are not financially viable to support themselves and their families. Simply put, the economics must work for the other ends to be realized. 

"This challenge has been increasingly difficult in recent years as the farm economy continues to lag.  Despite this downturn, farmers and ranchers have seen a surge in consumer interest for foods that were produced locally. As consumers become more connected to the story of their food, we see producers across this nation seeking out new business opportunities directly with shoppers to increase their margins and keep their operations viable. 

"In the 2017 Census of Agriculture, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that over 159,000 farmers and ranchers were selling directly to consumers. The value of their products sold, either directly to consumers or into local retail markets, was over $11.8 billion, representing 3 percent of total food sales.  As consumer demand continues to grow, these sales from local markets present a strong economic opportunity for our farmers and ranchers.    

"This story is true in my district of the U.S. Virgins Islands.  Farmers in the territory are working to recover from back to back natural disasters following Hurricanes Maria and Irma, so they are seeking out any and all opportunities to increase their profits and grow their operations.  

"In a hearing last year, this Subcommittee learned about Ridge to Reef Farm on the island of St. Croix.  Despite being impacted by multiple natural disasters, the territory’s only organic farm has been able to rebuild itself through local market opportunities such as a Community-Supported Agriculture program, a farm stand, multiple farmers markets, and agritourism experiences.  If other farming operations in the Virgin Islands follow suit, I believe the territory’s farmers and ranchers can work to meet the demand of their communities, decrease our overall dependency on expensive imports, and foster innovative partnerships with local restaurants and our thriving tourism industry.  The economic potential exists, but my producers need resources and technical assistance to successfully make these business decisions. 

"Within the Horticulture Title of the 2018 Farm Bill is a program called the Local Agriculture Markets Program, or LAMP.  This program combined two existing initiatives - the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and the Value-Added Producer Grants - into one program with a collective focus on helping farmers and ranchers take advantage of local markets.  Projects funded by LAMP aim to better connect farmers and ranchers to consumers and to help producers increase the margins they receive on their products. 

"I supported the reauthorization of these programs in the 2018 Farm Bill, and I was glad to see LAMP receive $50 million in annual mandatory funding over the life of our legislation.  This step forward represents a strong investment by Congress and a commitment to support the development of these local agricultural markets. 

"Moving forward, it is my goal to ensure that the recent restructuring of the LAMP programs contributes to, and does not detract from, the underlying goals of the previously separate Value-Added Producer Grants Program and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. Each program supports an important mission, and I will be watching USDA’s implementation to make sure these programs continue to operate as Congress intended.  

"During this Subcommittee hearing, we will receive testimony from farmers and advocates from across the country who are working to support successful local agriculture markets.  I look forward to hearing their perspectives, and to learn how we can better support market opportunities for farmers and ranchers in our districts."  
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