A coalition of more than 80 national, regional, state, local and grassroots organizations working with rural communities met in Washington, DC last week for the second annual Rural Innovation Summit. NCBA CLUSA, in partnership with the National Association of Counties (NACo) and Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) convened members of the Rural Network at NACo headquarters for a day of networking and collaboration among rural development experts focused on addressing agricultural challenges and improving the Rural Development Title of the 2023 Farm Bill. The summit spurred an interactive, action-oriented discussion on the future of rural development policy in the U.S.
The day began with keynote remarks from Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who addressed the group on the importance of coalition building as Congress works to reauthorize the Farm Bill. Following the Chairwoman’s remarks, NCBA CLUSA president and CEO Doug O’Brien moderated a panel discussion on the Farm Bill and Rural Development Title. Panel participants included Congressional majority and minority staff from the Senate and House Agriculture Committees.
After the morning sessions, Rural Network members joined breakout groups featuring thoughtful discussions around rural communities’ current challenges and the potential for addressing those challenges through the Rural Development Title of the 2023 Farm Bill. Topics included capacity building, infrastructure, housing, business and financing, and childcare.
In the afternoon, the newly appointed Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Xochitl Torres Small provided keynote remarks. The Deputy Secretary reflected on her work as Under Secretary of Rural Development and highlighted how the Rural Network can continue to build upon successes and stay connected in the coming years.
The day concluded with a panel featuring Dennis Alvord, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Development and Chief Operating Officer for the Economic Development Agency (EDA); Rudy Soto, Acting Director of the Office of External and Intergovernmental Affairs for USDA; and Bettina Jones, Program Manager for the Appalachian Regional Commission. The discussion featured an overview of currently accessible programs, including the Distressed Areas RECOMPETE Pilot Program, that can help meet rural community needs. Participants could engage in Q&A to discuss challenges to access and potential improvements for agency engagement.
Many common themes emerged from the day-long convening of Rural Network members, including the need for programs directed toward rural capacity building that are flexible, locally led and provide adequate resources to implement modern plans to increase the resiliency of rural communities. Additionally, the summit emphasized that the 2023 Farm Bill needs to provide the necessary funding for Rural Development programs by eliminating gaps in accessing existing resources through robust technical assistance, streamlining complex applications, incentivizing regional collaboration, and adopting a multi-year grant award structure.
The Rural Network will use input and takeaways from the summit to continue to advocate for USDA Rural Development programs as consideration of the 2023 Farm Bill continues. For any questions about the Rural Network or NCBA CLUSA’s advocacy work, email NCBA CLUSA’s Director of Government Relations Aaliyah Nedd at firstname.lastname@example.org.