June 27, 2014
On Wednesday, June 25, farmers, farmer advocates, and business leaders from around the country took time away from their farms, ranches, and work to discuss the importance of critical USDA programs that support research, conservation, rural development, marketing and beginning farmer priorities. Hailing from states as diverse as Maine and Mississippi, Maryland and New Mexico, they met with high-level USDA officials and 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) 2015 appropriations process and for the FY 2016 USDA budget request.
The day started with a series of meetings at USDA headquarters as the Department begins to prepare its budget requests for 2016. Participants met with Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations, Acting Undersecretary for Rural Development, Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Assistant Chief of the Natural Resource Conservation Service
Later the group met with the Chief and several program examiners from the Agriculture Branch of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Following productive conversations at USDA and OMB, the group spent the latter half of the day on the Hill, meeting with House and Senate appropriators to discuss the ongoing FY 2015 appropriations process. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have passed their respective FY 2015 agriculture appropriations bills; however, both the full House and the full Senate have delayed passage of the final bills.
The farmers spoke out in support of robust funding levels for conservation programs, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, Farm Service Agency direct farm loans and the Individual Development Account program, the new farmer food safety training program, outreach funding for minority and veteran farmers, and for rural development programs including Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance, Value-Added Producers Grants, and ATTRA, the national sustainable agriculture information service.
There are no better advocates for critical USDA programs that support sustainable agriculture than the farmers and business-owners who have benefited from them. While the House and Senate continue to struggle to pass basic legislation, these meetings gave farmers and ranchers the opportunity to directly engage with USDA and their representatives on the impact of and continued need for sustainable agriculture programs for their farms and communities.
One example is Gerald Chacon, a 7th generation rancher out of Espanola, New Mexico. After retiring as Associate Vice Provost at New Mexico State University, Gerald returned to ranching with his family full time. With the help of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Gerald and his family have improved sediment runoff on their ranch and were able to remove one of their creeks from the federal impaired waters list.
On the critical role USDA conservation programs play for farmers and ranchers, Gerald said “I’ve been around long enough to see programs come and go, but I haven’t seen one that has the kind of support these programs do – political and social support…Were it not for these programs, we wouldn’t be doing the conservation practices we’re doing.”
Edwin Fry of Chestertown, Maryland, a diversified organic and conventional grower and longtime user of USDA conservation programs, added that “support and cooperation for USDA programs is integral to all of the farm community to be able to maintain and sustain working lands so that the next generation of farmers, and my grandchildren, will be able to have productive land in the future.”
We thank Gerald, Edwin, and all of the producers who participated for taking precious time away from their farms and businesses to serve as advocates for sustainable agriculture. Thanks as well to NSAC members New England Farmers Union, Farm to Table New Mexico, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Center for Rural Affairs, and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute who helped bring these farmers to Washington!