HUDSON, N.Y. — In a Zoom enabled hearing on June 15, Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) Executive Director Todd Erling joined other thought leaders from around the country in testifying before the U.S. Congress Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit (CEEC). As a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee, chaired by Representative Antonio Delgado (D-NY- 19), the group met to discuss “Examining Opportunities for Growth and Investment in Rural America.” As the new chairman of the CEEC, it was Representative Delgado’s first presiding hearing of the subcommittee.
Erling testified on behalf of HVADC, The Farm and Food Growth Fund and the Agricultural Viability Alliance (the Alliance) of which he is a co-founding executive committee member as well as co-chair of the Alliance’s policy group. He was joined by other witnesses representing the needs of constituencies in rural communities including Dr. Phanesh Koneru, President and CEO, Exela Pharma Sciences, Lenoir, North Carolina; Ines Polonius, CEO, Communities Unlimited, on behalf of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, Fayetteville, Arkansas;. Bob Fox, County Commissioner, on behalf of National Association of Counties, Renville, Minnesota; and Kent D. Mattson, CEO, Lake Region Healthcare, on behalf of the Minnesota Hospital Association, Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
HVADC Executive Director Erling’s testimony focused on the importance of mobilizing federal resources in support of rural communities, agriculture and food businesses’ recovery efforts following the unprecedented economic challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. He stressed the value of having federal funding through the USDA, particularly through Rural Development programs to develop long-term plans for providing Business Technical Assistance (BTA) services that are provided to farms and food businesses through non-profits such as HVADC.
In his testimony and questioning by subcommittee members such as Representative Delgado, Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL-0), Representative Michelle Fischbach (R-MN-07), Representative Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH-02)and Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL-13), Erling spoke to the issue of how the Rebuild Rural America Act which was introduced in both houses of Congress earlier this year (in Congress by Representative Delgado and in the Senate by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)) could provide a roadmap for sustained strategic investment in our rural communities that could be modeled after existing successful programs aiding urban areas.
With rural communities being economically vulnerable on their best days, Erling cited the challenges that they face, ranging from underfunded schools, lack of access to capital, diminished business and financial planning capabilities and failing infrastructure, including access to high-speed broadband, and how the Rebuild Rural America Act could be a way of building a foundation for sustained strategic investment in rural communities. He expanded how the model which has benefited urban communities for many years could provide five year block grants to provide flexible and appropriate resources and funds, including regional BTA support to address the human side of agribusiness ventures. Developing and providing a “solid Rolodex” of service providers for strategic planning, succession planning, promotion, and financial one-on-one counseling would bolster farms and food businesses on their pathway to success.
“This week’s hearing examined a topic many of us know intimately – the critical need and importance of investment in rural America,” said Delgado. “USDA analyses tell us that between 2010 and 2018, population growth in rural America has lagged behind the growth in our urban areas. Additionally, job growth in rural communities increased at just half of the rate it did in urban areas. The time is long overdue for critical investment in our rural communities. Congress must deliver broadband, technical assistance, and infrastructure upgrades to rural regions across the United States. I thank Executive Director Todd Erling for his critical testimony about how we can support and strengthen our rural communities.”
“The significance of having this opportunity to testify on the behalf of HVADC, the Alliance and agribusinesses across the country, is that BTA is really a missing link in helping our rural communities survive and thrive. This subcommittee and the House Agriculture Committee ultimately oversee the USDA’s rural development funding through Rebuild and that support could be the masonry that holds all the pieces together for programs that provide BTA services,” Erling commented after testifying.
The strain of the economy ravaged by a global pandemic brought agriculture and food businesses which often serve as the anchor for rural communities, to the brink of collapse. In New York alone, 43% of farms report to have lost substantial sales during the pandemic. More than a third of farms and agribusinesses (37%) are experiencing severe cash flow issues and almost half (47%) say they have significantly reduced spending to local vendors and suppliers or will do so in the future. A combination of federal investment combined with a commitment to business development could not only assist rural areas in recovering economically from COVID-19, but lay the foundation for sustained economic growth into the future.
All hearing participants expressed a commitment to improving the care and support delivered to their rural community constituencies and how federal as opposed to independent local and often philanthropic support has been funding their programming and progress to-date.
A full recording of the subcommittee hearing of June 15 may be found at https://agriculture.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=2217
The HVADC is the region’s sole economic development agency with a specific focus on the viability of the agricultural economy in the Hudson Valley. It assists both new and existing agri-businesses such as farms, food businesses and food distributors, by providing technical and business consultation and resources. The non-profit promotes balanced, market-based solutions that lead to enhanced agricultural entrepreneurship, rural economic growth and community enhancement. For more information, please visit: www.Hvadc.org. HVADC produces a monthly-newsletter The Cultivator featuring its initiatives, partnerships and the businesses of its clients. For more information, visit: www.Hvadc.org.
–Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation