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Virginia Democrat re-elected to chair House Agriculture subcommittee on forestry, conservation
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Virginia Democrat re-elected to chair House Agriculture subcommittee on forestry, conservation

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Spanberger visits Culpeper greenhouses

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, (in red) listens to third-generation grower Benjamin van Hoven during a 2019 visit to his business, Commonwealth Greenhouses in Culpeper County.

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger is jazzed to helm the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on conservation and forestry.

“I want to bring the voices of farmers to the table, literally, including constituents from the 7th District,” she said in a recent interview with the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

Earlier this month, the Central Virginia lawmaker was re-elected to the post by her colleagues in the 117th Congress. She had led the panel during the last Congress, for the past two years.

Now, the two-term congresswoman said she is focusing on how better agricultural techniques and federal efforts can aid farmers, improve conservation and combat climate change.

Farmers and ag producers already are “some of the nation’s most prolific conservationists,” she said.

Methods and technologies that work for them often help the environment and can contribute to curbing global warming, Spanberger said. She sees the possibilities for synergy between the two goals.

The Democrat said she is keen to examine how farmers can grow their businesses and balance conservation programs and climate-smart practices.

With the Biden administration intent on addressing climate change, “it’s very important to me” to ensure that the voices of farmers and ag producers are heard as Congress considers changes and new programs, she said.

In the past, sometimes, federal regulations have been proposed that were meant to be positive but might crush a family farm, she said. Farmers’ upfront costs must be carefully considered, she said.

Trapping more carbon in woodland and farmland can be part of a climate-change solution, she said.

But in conversations with her, farmers have expressed confusion that the U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn’t offered them a standard solution or made clear who they can trust to offer advice.

Along with Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican from Nebraska, Spanberger has proposed legislation to certify outside, third-party experts to guide farmers, ranchers and forest owners through the process.

Spanberger introduced that proposal, Growing Climate Solutions Act, in the last Congress.

She plans to reintroduce the legislation in the next two weeks, a spokesperson said Tuesday.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act would create a program through which USDA would endorse technical service providers that will help landowners generate carbon credits through agriculture and forestry practices. It would reward farmers and foresters for embracing climate-smart practices, its proponents have said.

The USDA program would make sure the technical providers have ag and forestry expertise, something that’s now lacking in the marketplace, Spanberger’s office said. A new USDA website would provide a one-stop shop of resources for producers and foresters interested in taking part in carbon markets.

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The effort to mitigate climate-change impacts has already brought together a large coalition of disparate groups, including the National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, Ocean Spray, McDonald’s and agriculture groups, including the American Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association and American Soybean Association, she said.

Spanberger said she is hearing from industry experts that the proposal would make investment in carbon sequestration an attractive option for them.

“I’m really excited that it sets up this framework,” she said.

It would create the possibility of more revenue for farmers, but farmers wouldn’t be obligated to be part of the market, Spanberger said.

“Few things are really win-win, but this is a phenomenal option,” she said. “And it empowers farmers.”

Spanberger said she aims look at “all the places” where agricultural practices can be part of the solution to climate change

“Farmers already are always in the frame of doing the right things by the land,” she said. “At the heart, that’s what conservation practices are.”

When producers plant cover crops, do no-till farming or try rotational grazing, they’re keeping the soil healthy and improving their operations, she said.

From a Virginia perspective, Spanberger said she wants her proposals to offer “all carrots” to encourage more farmers to join Virginia producers’ long history of involvement in the Agriculture Department’s voluntary programs.

In similar fashion, Virginians’ work to reduce pollution and improve water quality have helped improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and led to a rebirth of Bay-related industries, particularly oyster growing, she said.

“I want agricultural folks to know I’m looking for places where they can positively address climate change and also positively ensure they are part of the solution,” Spanbergersaid.

Solutions would create new revenue streams, open new markets, increase the quality of produce, or enable producers to get a higher price point, she said.

“People may disagree with me on a host of other things, but in this space, they want to know, ‘What ideas are you putting forward? How will you help farmers keep their farms and ensure that future generations are successful?’” Spanberger said.

Many farmers have noticed big changes in climate, in seasons and crops that start earlier, and in the frequency and strength of extreme weather events, she said.

Spanberger said she appreciates being able to work with groups that advocate for people in agriculture, from farmers to cattlemen to loggers.

The nation was built on agriculture, which is Virginia’s largest private industry, she noted.

“For me, it’s really an economic argument,” she said.

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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