WASHINGTON – Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Tom Udall (D-NM), chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, respectively, today announced committee passage of their bipartisan legislation to promote agribusiness and rural development opportunities for Native American farmers, ranchers and communities. The Cultivating Resources, Opportunity, Prosperity and Sustainability (CROPS) for Indian Country Act (S. 2804) would strengthen tribal self-governance for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs, such as forestry and nutrition, and update several other key USDA authorizations to better serve tribes and enhance agricultural production in Indian Country.
“Our committee has heard from tribal leaders and stakeholders, including tribal colleges and universities, about the importance of enhancing tribal self-governance for USDA programs,” said Hoeven. “This legislation establishes a self-determination demonstration project for nutrition and forestry programs, and it reflects a number of important priorities for Indian Country in the upcoming farm bill. Strengthening the partnership between USDA and Indian tribes will expand agribusiness opportunities for Indian Country’s producers and leverage resources to better support rural tribal economies.”
“This bipartisan legislation reflects Indian Country’s priorities, and is a step in the right direction toward more robust engagement with tribes and Native stakeholders in the Farm Bill reauthorization process. I’m pleased to see it pass through committee so quickly,” Udall said. “As the Vice Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, I strongly believe that decisions made by tribes for tribes produce the best outcomes for Native families – especially when it comes to issues of food, agriculture, and community development. Native Americans deserve a seat at the table – and they deserve a Farm Bill that will support tribal families, farmers and ranchers, and opportunity across Indian Country.”
“For decades, NCAI has called for Farm Bills to meaningfully include Indian Country,” said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians. “We welcome this bipartisan legislation that would increase tribal access to programs at the United States Department of Agriculture.”
“We applaud Senators Hoeven and Udall for their proactive leadership in this reauthorization of the Farm Bill and for doing all that they can to ensure that Native people have the tools and resources needed to become significant contributors to the agricultural base of the nation and the world once again,” said Carrie Billy, president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. “As place-based institutions of higher education whose collective mission is to meet the needs of our Tribes and tribal communities – and most important, to preserve, strengthen, and sustain our tribal lands, languages, and cultures – Tribal Colleges are proud to be part of this nation’s Land-Grant family. Yet, TCUs face a great disparity in access to many of the resources available to other Land-Grant Institutions. The CROPS bill is a significant step on the road to parity. Again, we are grateful to Senators Hoeven and Udall for introducing the CROPS Act, and more important, for recognizing the vast potential and opportunity for Indian Country that lies within a thoughtful reauthorization of the Farm Bill.”
Agriculture is among the largest economic development industries in Indian Country, providing nearly $3.4 billion to the market. There are over 56,000 Native farmers and ranchers operating on 57 million acres of land.
Specifically, the senators’ legislation would leverage resources, capitalize on agribusiness opportunities, and strengthen the relationship between tribes and USDA by:
Establishing a tribal self-determination demonstration project for food distribution and forest management activities under USDA. The legislation would expand direct tribal access to $145 million in USDA funds and allow tribal food programs to better serve the nearly 90,000 Native Americans who currently participate in these programs, including elders and youth. It would also empower Indian tribes with greater resources to combat forest fires and responsibly manage the 18 million acres of tribal forest lands in the United States.
Expanding resources, research opportunities and grant eligibility for tribal colleges and universities. The senators’ legislation would enable the 36 tribal colleges and universities to access nearly $11.3 million in USDA research and extension funding.
Providing greater certainty for the current Tribal Promise Zone designees, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe. The legislation would ensure four Tribal Promise Zones continue to have access to resources and technical assistance from federal agency partners.
Establishing a permanent Tribal Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Ranching. The advisory committee would provide the Secretary of Agriculture with diverse expertise relating to geographical, tribal and agricultural industry issues throughout USDA.
The committee unanimously voted to advance the bill, without amendment, to the full Senate.
The legislation comes as Hoeven and Udall lead a bipartisan effort to include Indian Country’s priorities in the 2018 Farm Bill. In January, the committee convened an oversight hearing to identify opportunities for Indian agribusiness, followed by a roundtable to discuss how Congress and USDA can better support tribal traditional foods. The legislation reflects input received from the administration, tribal leaders and tribal organizations.