On June 25th, farmers, farm advocates, and agricultural researchers from around the country flew to Washington, DC to share their stories with decision-makers in Congress, the White House, and at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Participants hailed from California, Oregon, Wisconsin, Maine, Kansas, and Georgia.
NSAC hosted this fly-in at a critical juncture as USDA prepares its budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2017 and Congress moves forward with Fiscal Year 2016 agricultural appropriations bills. For more information on the passage of the funding bill for FY2016 and the next steps to be aware of, refer to NSAC’s recent blog post.
The morning began with a visit to the USDA and meetings with top officials including:
- Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden
- Under Secretary for Rural Development Lisa Mensah
- Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Ann Mills
- Program leaders from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Rural Business-Cooperative Service.
The funding-oriented conversations with USDA explored the personal experiences of the participating farmers and advocates with programs including:
- Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE);
- Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG);
- The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and other mandatory farm bill conservation programs; and
- Grant and loan programs for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Kansas farmer Robin Griffeth met with Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills to tell his story and his experience with the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). “I’m a farmer that deals with solar energy and water management. My solar collectors are living plants. The water that I manage is rain water – which I also manage with living plants. My goal is to produce the safest, most nutritious crops possible, while improving soil health.” Griffeth voiced his concern for our nation’s soil health while highlighting the importance of CSP funding for farmers taking on conservation efforts.
The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee recently passed its funding bill for FY 2016, which included a cut to CSP enrollment from 10 million acres to 7.74 million acres, or nearly 23 percent. Though extreme, this cut was not as extreme as the one proposed by the White House and USDA earlier this year.
NSAC is deeply troubled by these cuts, which will have a direct impact on farmers, ranchers and foresters who are trying to conserve soil, water, and other resources on and around their land. We are also highly critical of this re-opening of the farm bill to change the terms Congress agreed to after three long years of work on the Agricultural Act of 2014.
NSAC will work with the Senate to reverse this cut as the appropriations process moves forward. Looking ahead to the President’s 2017 Budget Request, fly-in participants urged USDA and the Administration to reverse course and provide for full funding for CSP and all the other farm bill conservation programs.
The visit to the USDA concluded with a meeting with Deputy Secretary, Krysta Harden. Participants had the opportunity to voice successes and concerns for all USDA programs represented.
Ranchers Dan and Jeanne Carver made sure to display their prized possession – a 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Team USA sweater that was produced by Ralph Lauren utilizing Imperial Yarn produced from their wool, a project made possible by growth in their business sparked through the Value-Added Producer Grants program. The couple calls this accomplishment a “win for American textiles”. The Carvers proudly own and operate Imperial Stock Ranch producing sheep, cattle, grains, hay and grasses in the rural high desert of Central Oregon.
One of the conservation success stories from Dan and Jeanne Carver is their restoration of salmon habitat and population in the stretch of river running through their property. Through “rotational grazing practices, off stream water developments, no till farming, and other practices,” their ecosystem has become increasingly resilient. They now consistently see 800-1000 salmon coming up their stretch of tributary, up from just 2 in 1990, and have reduced erosion, improved water quantity and quality, increased carbon sequestration, and reduced crop inputs.
Celebrating 144 years, Imperial Stock Ranch has been a leader in sustainability, efforts that were made possible thanks to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) and Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) support. Jeanne Carver expressed deep appreciation for being able to come to Washington, DC and how important it is to “communicate the results of the grants back to those who decide on the funding.”
Carol Hunter, of Truly Living Well (TLW) in Atlanta, Georgia advocated for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the 2501 program. Living Well is an innovative non-profit that is dedicated to using natural produce production methods in urban areas as a means of connecting people, regardless of socioeconomic status, to healthier foods and communities and providing agriculture-based training and jobs. Carol discussed the importance of the 2501 program for her organization and how it “provides opportunities in urban agriculture that lead to self sufficiency.”
Chris Brown, of the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) in Salinas, California, spoke to the importance of the 2501 program, SARE, and a number of other USDA programs that support their work with farmers. ALBA is a non-profit farm business incubator for aspiring organic farmers on the central coast of California. Chris stated that it is crucial to preserve these programs because there is a lot of “raw agricultural talent in traditionally underserved communities which deserve investment. This investment creates opportunity for new family farms, which provide jobs and healthy produce to a rapidly growing market for organic foods.”
Later, the fly-in participants met with program examiners from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), including sessions on agricultural research, rural development, conservation, and minority farmers. Following the OMB meetings, participants met with members of their state delegations on Capitol Hill.
All of the participants who took the time to travel to Washington, DC and advocate for these crucial USDA programs offered key details into their usefulness and impact on a personal level. The various officials, Senators, and Representatives that our participants met with were able to hear how these programs are benefiting individuals and communities and why it is crucial to continue or expand funding levels.
The full House Appropriations Committee will take up the Subcommittee Appropriations bill later this week. However, the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is not expected to debate and vote on its version of the bill until after July 4. Stay tuned as the House Appropriations Committee debates the bill and considers amendments, and sign up to take action here.