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Plaskett Gives Opening Statement at Hearing on Small Producers and Agricultural Markets

Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett (screen shot, Jan. 21, 2021)

Chair of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Stacey Plaskett delivered the following statement at Monday’s hearing titled “Supply Chain Recovery and Resiliency: Small Producers and Local Agricultural Markets.” [As prepared for delivery]

Good morning and thank you to my colleagues and our witnesses for joining me today as we host this important discussion on the consequences of and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic on small producers serving local markets.

I would also like to welcome you all to the first subcommittee hearing for the Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Subcommittee for the 117th Congress. I’m looking forward to working with all of you and finding ways to address our shared priorities — such as supporting agricultural research, improving and expanding the National Organic Program, and facilitating new developments in agricultural technologies. This subcommittee has jurisdiction over a variety of very exciting and important aspects of our food and agriculture sectors, and it’s an honor to serve as chair again.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a lasting impact on our agricultural communities around the country – notably impacting small farmers and ranchers, and including our small, certified organic producers.

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During the pandemic, producers were required to significantly adapt their business practices and operations to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19, which shifted how these producers were able to participate in agricultural markets.

The pandemic further caused unprecedented interferences within supply-chains and challenges to market access for many small producers serving local markets – local markets which are becoming increasingly more important as a way for producers to add value to their operations.

This story is true in my district of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Farmers in the territory are mostly small and local producers who are working to recover from the supply chain disruptions. Producers from my district are certainly seeking all opportunities to strengthen their supply chain while serving the local community.

Each year, consumers across the country purchase more and more products from local markets. The USDA reported a farm-level value of direct food sales totaling $11.8 billion in 2017, including sales from 8% of U.S. farmers, confirming significant growth in these local agriculture markets.

Farmers across the country are taking advantage of this growing demand through a variety of alternative business models and production practices, including direct-to-consumer marketing, farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA), community gardens and food hubs.

However, in order to ensure the success of our farmers and producers as demand for local markets increase, it is vital to examine the impact of COVID-19 on our supply chains and facilitate economic recovery.

Our witnesses today include some of those farmers and producers who have seen first-hand the impact of COVID-19 on small farms servicing local communities, and I am grateful to hear about their experiences — which are crucial to advancing our work here today and as we look forward to the next farm bill.

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