Farmers Speak Out for Sustainable Agriculture at USDA and on the Hill
June 28th, 2013
Farmers and ranchers take a break after a morning full of meetings with USDA officials
Research into sustainably extending the tomato growing season in New Mexico. A feasibility study for a stone-ground grain enterprise. Cover crops to minimize soil erosion and leaching. All of these stories and more came up this week during a series of meetings with farmers, USDA officials, and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition staff.
On Tuesday, June 25, farmers and ranchers from Iowa, Maryland, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota and New Mexico took time away from their farms and ranches to discuss research, conservation, rural development, marketing and beginning farmer priorities with high-level USDA officials and with their members of Congress in Washington, DC. Throughout the day they shared their success stories and highlighted sustainable agriculture priorities for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 appropriations process and for the FY 2015 USDA budget request.
The day started with a series of meetings at USDA headquarters as the Department begins to prepare its budget requests for 2015. The producers met with eight USDA officials, including the Acting Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, the Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Director of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, the Deputy Administrator of Rural Development Cooperative Programs, and the Director of Rural Development Business Programs, among others.
The group spent the latter half of the day on the Hill, meeting with House and Senate appropriators to discuss the ongoing FY 2014 appropriations process. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have passed their respective FY 2014 agriculture appropriations bills; however, neither the full House nor the full Senate have taken up these bills yet for final passage.
Both sets of meetings gave participants the opportunity to discuss the impact of sustainable agriculture programs on their farms and communities. Here are just a few of the stories shared –
- Maryland dairy producers Holly and Eric Foster detailed how two Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) helped improve their cheese and yogurt production at their family-owned farm, Chapel’s County Creamery. Likewise, Peter and Kelly Whisnant of Rain Crow Ranch in Missouri spoke to the importance of VAPG funding to catalyzing their 100 percent grass-fed, organic, and animal welfare approved certified beef business.
- Terry Jacobson of North Dakota, who raises grass-fed beef and grows grain on his North Outback Farm, stressed the importance of rewarding farmers for their environmental stewardship through the Conservation Stewardship Program.
- And Margaret Campos of Comida de Campos in New Mexico detailed how the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) helped her conduct on-farm research into extending her tomato growing season, which now allows her to market produce for a longer period of the year.
We thank these and all of the farmers who participated for taking precious time away from their businesses to be sustainable agriculture ambassadors and educators inside the Beltway earlier this week! Thanks as well to NSAC members Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Center for Rural Affairs, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, Farm to Table, Delta Land & Community, and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute who helped bring these farmers to Washington!