Tweaks to farm bill conservation programs requested

CRP grazing and increasing funding for oversubscribed programs discussed at House Ag subcommittee hearing.

 

Jacqui Fatka, Feedstuffs 

Sep 20, 2022

 

The House Agriculture Committee continued its review of the farm bill with a hearing held September 20 by the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee to review the conservation title of the 2018 Farm Bill. Witnesses offered their conservation priorities and offered grassroots suggestions on improvements needed to the title that continues to gain increased attention.

 

Overwhelmingly, witnesses testified about the need to encourage an approach that is voluntary and is not a one-size-fits all approach.

 

Michael Crowder, president of the National Association of Conservation Districts, wanted to reiterate one message to members. “Voluntary, locally-led, incentive-based conservation works.”

 

Technical assistance, planning and engineering and financial assistance in the form of cost share or incentives, provide farmers with the knowledge and economic incentive to be able to make a change in their operation or maintain a conservation practice, testifies Nicole Berg, National Association of Wheat Growers President and Washington State wheat grower.

 

Berg shares that the 2018 Farm Bill maintained a strong commitment to voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs. The Natural Resources Conservation Service programs continue to be oversubscribed, with less than half of all applicants receiving NRCS funding nationwide. Specifically, wheat growers applied with 7,500 contracts between 2018 and 2021, and 5,000 valid applications from wheat growers went unfunded.

 

Crowder adds that approximately seven out of 10 farmers who want to invest in long-term health of their operations through the use of conservation programs are unfortunately turned away. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program was noted several times as a “workhorse of conservation programs” and the need to continue to invest in the program often most impacted by oversubscriptions.

 

Iowa beef producer Shayne Wiese, who testified on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, testified that he wasn’t turned down, but was never given an answer on his EQIP request. Wiese currently operates Wiese & Sons: Good Doin’ Bulls along with this older brother in West Central Iowa. Wiese & Sons are advocates for conservation and utilize cover crops, CRP, water filtration buffers, and erosion reduction practices as part of their comprehensive commitment to environmental stewardship.

 

“While the intent of EQIP is to make conservation funding and technical assistance accessible to all producers, barriers to entry often disincentivize producers from using NRCS programs,” testified Wiese. “Recently, I applied to receive EQIP cost-share funding but after months of waiting, I gave up and completed a water infrastructure project without assistance from USDA.”

 

Wiese says the EQIP funding sought was for water infrastructure during a drought for their cattle. As a fifth-generation cattle farmer, he had access to land resources and capital to “bite the bullet” and pay for the water infrastructure investment without the use of EQIP funds. However, many other young farmers and ranchers wouldn’t have the ability to do that without the cost share assistance.

 

Improvements suggested ...

 

Impact of recent conservation funding ... 

 

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