Spanberger bill would incentivize crop, livestock producers to responsible conservation practices

Abigail SpanbergerRep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) has announced the introduction of her legislation to establish a Soil Health Transition Loan Program at the USDA to support farmers and producers looking to start or strengthen existing conservation efforts on their farms.

Spanberger’s Healthy Soil, Resilient Farmers Act would distribute these loans and help U.S. crop and livestock producers improve their soil health and increase their soil carbon levels by expanding existing authorities at the USDA under the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Loan Program.

These loans would provide additional flexibility for family farmers looking to adopt best practices in cover-cropping, crop rotation, advanced grazing management, organic production, and additional techniques.

Farmers receiving these loans would be allowed a three-year deferment on the loan’s interest and payments on loan principle.

During a visit with Louisa County farmer Dustin Madison on Thursday, Spanberger — chair of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry — discussed the importance of supporting Central Virginia farmers as they look to strengthen successful, voluntary conservation practices that both increase soil health and provide long-term economic benefits.

In October, Spanberger led a hearing focused on the financial and conservation benefits of precision agriculture, during which she heard the testimony of Madison.

“Central Virginia farmers take their responsibility as stewards of the land seriously, and they have a record of successful participation in USDA conservation efforts. But amid an economic downturn, continued trade wars, and a public health crisis, many farmers are finding it difficult to make new investments in some of these practices,” said Spanberger. “Especially for new and beginning farmers, we need to take steps to improve access to capital that can be used to keep Central Virginia’s soil productive and healthy. Through a new loan program at the FSA, my legislation would provide additional incentives to help expand practices that will pay off for farm families in the long run. As Chair of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, I’m committed to supporting farmers who want to invest in conservation initiatives — and I’ll keep fighting to make sure they have the tools and resources they need to make future investments, produce higher yields, and protect their soil health.”

“Our nation’s farmers are especially vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate but they are also key to helping mitigate climate change by storing carbon in the soil. We are grateful to Representative Spanberger for recognizing the central role organic farmers play by utilizing best practices that cultivate healthy soil and sequester carbon,” said Laura Batcha, CEO, Organic Trade Association. “The Healthy Soil, Resilient Farmers Act of 2020 will grow organic by incentivizing practices that improve soil health including transitioning to organic certification.”

“Providing farmers with conservation loan financing to help them make transitions to soil health-promoting sustainable or organic systems would be a terrific new tool in the farm policy toolbox to advance regenerative agriculture,” said Eric Deeble, policy director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “We applaud Representative Spanberger for advancing this innovative proposal to use existing federal resources to create new opportunities for beginning farmers to establish the climate-friendly and highly productive operations that are so critical to the future of U.S. agriculture.”

To put family farmers on an equal playing field, the Healthy Soil, Resilient Farmers Act would restrict Soil Health Transition Loan access to co-op or family-owned farms.

Click here to read the full bill text.

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