By NASDA CEO Dr. Barb Glenn
2020 brought unforeseen challenges to us all. Our health care workers and first responders made incredible sacrifices to care for so many as we navigated COVID-19. As the pandemic arrived, a spotlight hovered over agriculture immediately, and the world watched as we fashioned our food supply system to meet the changing needs of Americans. The tireless commitment of food service workers, farmers, ranchers and all involved in producing our food cannot be commended enough. The food supply chain was and remains strong. 2020 pushed us to work together more than ever before, leading us to appreciate that 2021 requires the essential need for partnerships with others.
As we transition into 2021, there is a feeling of hope. However, uncertainty caused by the pandemic remains. Hunger continues to exist in America. So, it remains invaluable for state agriculture departments to effectively respond to the unique needs of food and agriculture producers, and build partnerships with hunger relief groups, ensuring all communities are fed. To empower NASDA members to best meet states’ needs, NASDA has identified food systems and food safety, infrastructure and capacity, climate resiliency, international trade and workforce development as policy priorities in 2021.
The strains COVID-19 placed on our food system made it clear that additional attention is needed to enhance our food supply chains. In the new year, NASDA will place greater emphasis on seeking opportunities to:
- Keep workers and food safe
- Bolster local and regional food systems
- Expand food processing and distribution infrastructure
- Support rural recovery efforts through food systems, and
- Combat food waste.
NASDA will push for significant investments in U.S. infrastructure including transportation systems and broadband expansion. Farmers and ranchers rely heavily on a consistent and dependable transportation system to move products and equipment, expand markets and achieve financial sustainability for their businesses. They also depend on broadband just as they do highways, railways and waterways to deliver their products around the world. Research and innovation in food and agriculture must ramp up, as it contributes to resiliency in rural America due to the strong link between investments in research and agricultural productivity. To truly build opportunity in agricultural and rural communities, we must come together to find ways to modernize rural infrastructure.
None of these conversations can be held, however, without the consideration of the state of our climate. NASDA has been at the forefront of this conversation by promoting efforts that protect and enhance our nation’s natural resources, while also building a resilient agriculture and food supply chain. For example, at the end of last year, NASDA along with several other national organizations representing farmers, ranchers, forest owners, the food sector and environmental advocates formed the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance. Through the alliance, NASDA helped develop 40+ policy recommendations for climate solutions. We’ll advocate for polices that are voluntary, market and incentive-based, founded on science and that promote resiliency to help rural economies better adapt to changes in the climate.
NASDA maintains its support for new free trade agreements while closely working with our federal partners to implement and enforce the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and Phase One of the U.S.-China trade agreement. Developing new markets for U.S. agricultural producers is critical to remain on a level playing field with our competitors, particularly in the fast-growing markets of the Asia-Pacific region.
Food safety has always been critical as NASDA members are co-regulators on the safety of foods with the Food and Drug Administration. We will continue advocating for full funding to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act while working with FDA and states to effectively implement FSMA.
Agriculture is first and foremost reliant on talented leaders and workers. We remain steadfast in our belief that by investing in people and workforce development systems, we can make the path to agriculture employment straightforward for our producers and a promising choice for workers.
One thing remains certain in 2021. Our members’ diverse perspectives and government leadership roles strengthen our united voice. After all, these attributes embolden NASDA to lead achievable, non-partisan solutions to policy issues from farm to fork. Together at the table, we will pursue new partnerships and challenge each other to find new ways to advance agriculture in the states.
NASDA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association which represents the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries, and directors of the departments of agriculture in all fifty states and four U.S. territories. NASDA grows and enhances American agriculture through policy, partnerships and public engagement. To learn more about NASDA, please visit www.nasda.org.