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House subcommittee examines impact of COVID-19 response on conservation programs

(© W. Scott McGill –

A House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee hearing on Thursday focused on the impact that the government response to COVID-19 has had on Natural Resources Conservation Service programs.

The hearing was led by subcommittee chair Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07).

Spanberger stressed the dual economic and environmental benefits of voluntary conservation programs, and she highlighted the role that NRCS programs and staff could play in jumpstarting the recovery of agricultural producers ravaged by months of adverse weather, pandemic conditions, fluctuating demand, and market uncertainty.

Given how drastically the agricultural world has changed since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, Spanberger also invited the witnesses to provide their insight and recommendations on adjustments that could be made to NRCS programs to increase flexibility and more effectively support the conservation work that farmers are pursuing during this challenging time.

“Lawmakers have worn out the word ‘unprecedented’ in recent months, but it is truly difficult to overstate how volatile this year has been for both the NRCS and the American farmers, ranchers, and foresters they serve,” Spanberger said. “For months, producers have been dealing with the disruptive impact that COVID-19 has had on their own lives, businesses, and localities. On top of that, they have had to reckon with a deepening economic crisis, continued instability in the markets, and destructive weather events from coast to coast.”

“Amid all these considerations, NRCS has had to think creatively about how best to provide the education, support, and access that farmers need to fully participate in voluntary conservation programs. I appreciate the NRCS’s persistence in difficult circumstances – as many family farms struggle to survive, their work has never been more vital. In my own district, I’ve heard from Central Virginia producers about the multitude of ways that conservation techniques can put farmers on stronger financial footing while also improving our climate and protecting our soil and water. I thank all our witnesses for their contributions today, and I look forward to further discussion on how we can make conservation programs an ongoing part of American agriculture’s long-term economic recovery.”

“Chairwoman Spanberger led a critical discussion in today’s hearing,” said U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN-07). “Farm bill conservation programs are an important tool for farmers and ranchers across the country as they look to take care of their land and manage successful farming operations in this turbulent economy.”

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