Representative Abigail Spanberger—Chair of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee— led a hearing focused on expanding Historically Underserved farmers and ranchers’ access to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) conservation programs this week.
During the Subcommittee hearing, Spanberger heard from Irvin White—a first-generation farmer and consultant with a business based in Louisa County. For more than two decades, White has helped area farmers work in tandem with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to implement voluntary conservation practices. To date, his business has installed hundreds of miles of stream fencing and alternative watering systems throughout Central Virginia—including in Culpeper, Orange, Louisa, and Spotsylvania Counties.
In her opening statement, Spanberger highlighted how Historically Underserved farmers and ranchers often struggle to gain access, assistance, and the necessary credit to succeed in conservation implementation. Additionally, she called for USDA’s conservation programs to better account for structural barriers and to recognize the critical contributions of Historical Underserved producers—including women, beginning, minority, and veteran farmers and ranchers.
“To support the next generation of producers, we need to make sure they can actively participate in conservation programs that will both increase the profitability of their farms and help mitigate the effects of extreme weather and climate change. But for generations, many farm families have faced discrimination and insufficient access to credit, which makes fully using federal conservation program more difficult today,” said Spanberger. “I greatly appreciated hearing the perspective of Mr. White, whose operations in Louisa County have helped many of our district’s farmers and cattlemen expand their conservation efforts. His testimony underscored the numerous barriers to new and beginning farmers as they begin their operations—including a lack of cash and an inability to survive uncertain market conditions. Throughout today’s hearing, I was honored to hear from a diverse spectrum of voices throughout production agriculture—and I look forward to working with USDA and NRCS to give every farmer the tools they need to succeed and keep their operations sustainable.”
“Agricultural conservation programs are vitally important not only for environmental sustainability, but also for the financial viability of farmers and ranchers. I see this in my work every day, both as I run and expand my own operation, and as I work with new and beginning farmers throughout Central Virginia,” said Irvin White, Owner, White Fencing in Louisa County. “What’s more, technical assistance is essential in realizing the goals of these programs. It takes time to build relationships with farmers and to help them implement innovative practices, but this is an essential investment. In addition to conveying the importance of these programs, I appreciate Congresswoman Spanberger for providing me with the opportunity to bring the voices of Virginian farmers to Congress today.”
Today’s witnesses also included Kimberly LaFleuer—a first-generation cranberry farmer from Massachusetts—and Andrew Sanchez—a Navy veteran and minority farmer from New Mexico.
This hearing builds on Spanberger’s efforts to examine how farmers can balance the environmental benefits of voluntary conservation programs with the practices they need to grow their businesses. In October 2019, Spanberger led a hearing focused on achieving the financial and conservation benefits of precision agriculture. During the hearing, Spanberger heard from Dustin Madison—a farmer and crop consultant from Louisa County in Virginia’s Seventh District—about how farmers can use precision ag tools to achieve tangible conservation benefits.
Since arriving in the U.S. House, Spanberger has worked to amplify the voices of Central Virginia farmers, understand economic issues facing the district’s rural communities, and give crop and livestock producers a seat at the table in the federal decision-making process.
As Chair of her Subcommittee, Spanberger has worked to hear directly from NRCS about how the agency intends to improve its financial and technical assistance to Central Virginia farmers. During her first hearing as Chair, Spanberger asked NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr and USDA Farm Services Agency Administrator Richard Fordyce about the progress of 2018 Farm Bill implementation—particularly related to the timeline to implement changes to USDA’s conservation programs. And in June 2019, Spanberger led a bipartisan, roundtable discussion about federal efforts to protect and restore farmland and wetlands through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
During her two-day farm tour last August, she met with producers, farm families, and agribusinesses to learn more about how she can support economic growth and help build conditions for greater opportunity across the Seventh District.