Farm Bill Hearing: House Ag Committee Discusses How to Improve Conservation Programs
Today on the Hill, the House Ag Committee started the conversation on the 2023 Farm Bill, which is expected to include more attention to helping producers implement conservation practices on the farm.
In the first Farm Bill hearing of the year, lawmakers took a closer look at USDA’s conservation programs. Ranking member, Glenn Thompson, used his time to press the administration on proposed funding levels in the budget.
“In the stalled Build Back Better Act, there’s a $20 billion in funding for climate practices. That money is almost equal to a doubling of funding for the current Farm Bill conservation programs. A significant portion of the funding is back loaded in the last two years of the bill. For example, the Regional Conservation Partnership program or CPP, receives over $3 billion in FY, 2610 times the amount of funding it receives in the farm bill.”
But multiple democratic members pointed to the oversubscribed Equip Program as a sign that more funding is needed, and NRCS Chief Terry Cosby told the committee they are working to improve access.
“We’re only able to find about a third of them applications that walk through the door. And it’s a very competitive process. And we want to make sure that folks understand what that process is and how to apply and we are making it so that it’s not by farm size or anything like that when we look at our ranking system, we’re trying to make it more flexible so that anyone that wants to participate, and we’re going to do some great conservation work has that opportunity.”
Members also expressed concerns about staffing levels and the agency’s ability to implement more conservation programs. According to Cosby, they currently have just over 10 thousand employees and are hoping to get to 11 thousand this year.
“We have a very aggressive hiring strategy last year also we had direct hire authority where we were able to take resumes and bring on a very capable staff to NRCS over the last two years, we’ve hired about 3000 employees and over the next two years, hopefully we’ll be able to bring on the same we are well above our attrition rate as people leave agency for retirement.”
Farm Service Agency Administrator, Zach Ducheneaux, was also questioned on what changes should be made to the conservation reserve program to increase enrollment.
“We’ve made some changes to soil rental rates that have really helped drive enrollment up. We made an increase in the grassland CRP, which significantly drove the interest drove interest up. And it’s important to remember that every additional acre we enroll in CRP is another choice that a producer has to be an economic player in the global climate change mitigation effort.”
Last year landowners enrolled 5.3 million acres which surpassed USDA’s goal of 4 million acres and changed the trend of declining enrollment from previous years.
The House Ag Committee will meet again tomorrow for a hearing on sustainability in the livestock industry and again next week to review farm policy with USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie.