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Subcommittee Chair Spanberger’s Opening Statement on Farm Bill Conservation Programs

Washington, May 15, 2019
WASHINGTON – House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry Chair Abigail Spanberger of Virginia delivered the following statement during Wednesday’s hearing to review the state of conservation programs authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill. These remarks are Chair Spanberger’s as prepared for delivery.

“I’m pleased to be here today for our first Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee hearing. I look forward to working with Ranking Member Doug LaMalfa, and I thank him for his leadership on the Subcommittee and the productive discussions we’ve already had about our shared priorities. I also want to thank each Member for being a part of this Subcommittee, and I look forward to working with each of you.

“Today, this Subcommittee will be addressing USDA Farm Bill Conservation Programs. We’ll be discussing the conservation programs under the respective authorities of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency, as well the changes that the 2018 Farm Bill made to some of those programs. To that end, I would like to thank our witnesses for being here today to lead that discussion.

“I represent a diverse swath of Central Virginia – from the Richmond suburbs to the fields of Nottoway County in the south to the rural communities of Culpeper County in the North. I’ve heard from producers in my district who make use of the USDA’s conservation programs, such as EQIP and CRP. Particularly now, with net farm income at just half its 2013 level, these voluntary programs that provide support to farmers – while at the same time protecting our natural resources – are critical.

“The role of voluntary conservation programs in our country’s history provides additional context as to why they’re necessary today. Federal conservation assistance began during the Depression, when the Great Plains experienced severe, multi-year droughts leading to soil erosion, dust storms, farm abandonments, and mass migration—the Dust Bowl. In response, Congress established the Soil Conservation Service, which began advancing on-the-ground conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and promote productive fields and healthy landscapes.

“Today, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency at USDA administer more than a dozen programs and subprograms to address natural resource concerns. Through a voluntary, incentive-based approach, USDA provides private landowners and operators with the technical and financial assistance they need to thrive, remain sustainable, and achieve profitability. This work is vital. More than 70% of land in the United States is held by private landowners, so the decisions they make have deep and lasting implications for Americans both on and off the farm.

“Much like the Dust Bowl-era, the case for agricultural resiliency and sustainability applies today. According to the National Climate Assessment, climatic disruptions to agricultural production over the past 40 years have been linked to changes in crop yields and quality. Extreme weather events such historic snowfall and flooding in the Midwest, destructive hurricanes across the Southeast, and devasting wildfires in the West lend urgency to conservation efforts.

“Throughout this hearing, I am interested in learning more about the suite of conservation programs available to producers through USDA. I am interested in learning more about the outreach strategies that recruit producers and encourage them to adopt new practices. I am also eager to hear about the new authorities afforded by the 2018 Farm Bill and the prospects they hold in accelerating conservation efforts on the ground.

“With that, I would like to recognize the Ranking Member, the distinguished gentleman from California, Congressman Doug LaMalfa for five minutes.”
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