On Tuesday, June 13, NCBA CLUSA provided witness testimony at the House Committee on Agriculture Rural Development Subcommittee hearing called “Stakeholder Perspectives on USDA’s Rural Development Programs.” Cornelius Blanding, member of NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors and Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, testified on behalf of cooperatives and shared NCBA CLUSA priorities, experience and guidance related to USDA Rural Development programs ahead of this year’s Farm Bill reauthorization.
The Farm Bill, reauthorized every five years, governs USDA programs and is set to expire on September 30, 2023. NCBA CLUSA’s testimony helped to inform legislators on how to best support cooperatives and rural communities throughout the Farm Bill Reauthorization process.
NCBA CLUSA thanks legislators and the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development for recognizing the cooperative community as an essential aspect of rural development across the U.S. We look forward to working alongside legislators to keep the cooperative discussion going throughout this year’s Farm Bill Reauthorization process.
As a major stakeholder in this policy conversation, NCBA CLUSA submitted written testimony to the Rural Development Subcommittee highlighting the need for increased capacity building, programmatic flexibility, accessibility, and a focus on locally-led economic development strategies. Read the full testimony.
Following the testimony, Blanding answered questions from legislators related to cooperatives and across various topics within the Rural Development purview. Cornelius received questions from the Chair of the House Ag. Committee G.T. Thompson (PA), RD Subcommittee Ranking Member Caraveo (CO), Congresswoman Crockett (TX), Congressman Langworthy (NY), Congressman Jackson (IL), Congressman Davis (NC), Congresswoman Budzinski (IL), Congressman Molinaro (NY), Congressman Miller (OH), and Congresswoman Salinas (OR).
“Build around what is already there”
Cooperatives were a subject of discussion amongst the legislators as Congressman Langworthy asked how policymakers could improve upon programs like the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) in order to support workforce development and preserve rural businesses. Blanding highlighted the need to create flexible programs that allow people to identify the assets within their community to create infrastructure and build a workforce around that asset through cooperatives.
Co-ops make it possible for communities to own and control their businesses and ensure people have access to critical markets and services. Beyond this, cooperatives reinvest back into their local economies at higher rates, source more goods locally, and create and maintain more local jobs. This positions cooperatives as a strong business model to build upon the assets existing within rural communities and return the benefits to local community members.
The Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program is the only federal program that exclusively invests in the startup, innovation and growth of cooperative businesses. Increasing flexibility for a program like this would allow for increased expansion and startup of cooperatives, giving rural communities the ability to draw on local resources while keeping the economic benefits within the area.
“Give people the ability to create their own solutions”
Chairman G.T. Thompson asked about how NCBA CLUSA helps expand workforce opportunities within communities. Blanding explained that the primary role of NCBA CLUSA is cooperative economic development and developing cooperatives where communities can own and control their futures and infrastructure. He added that it is important for Congress to invest in infrastructure that can be controlled and owned by the people themselves through locally-led strategies.
Later in the hearing, Blanding responded to a question from Congresswoman Crockett about how expanding community facilities loans could allow grocery store co-ops to bring food into food deserts. Blanding said one of the biggest options for addressing food deserts is cooperatives and giving people and communities the ability to access resources to build their own cooperative grocery stores, but that the issues go deeper to areas like health, education and income. Connecting community issues and expanding resources for communities to build their own solutions to problems through the cooperative model is an example of effective investment in infrastructure.
A main point of emphasis throughout the hearing was allowing communities to identify their own needs or solutions to community issues and creating Rural Development programs that are flexible enough for communities to access support in the pursuit of those solutions. Federal programs need to be flexible so that they serve the community—and not vice versa.
Cooperatives play a vital role in creating economic opportunities that empower people and communities in the U.S. to improve their lives and address market failures and community needs. Increasing accessibility for rural communities to develop cooperatives through Rural Development programs is a critical way to drive locally led and locally rooted economic development.
NCBA CLUSA will continue to work with the House Agriculture Committee and Subcommittee on Rural Development to expand programmatic accessibility, flexibility, capacity-building opportunities, and cooperative development in the 2023 Farm Bill. In the meantime, it is important for legislators to hear feedback from the cooperative community. Please use this link to provide feedback related to Farm Bill programs.