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Hearing: House Ag Subcommittee on Conservation

Yesterday afternoon, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry held a hearing titled on land conservation issues.

Subcommittee Chairman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R., Pa.) indicated at yesterday’s hearing that, “The Earth’s population is projected to grow to roughly 9 billion people by the year 2050. Given the growing demands on farm land everywhere, we must invest in the necessary resources and best practices to be certain that producers can continue to meet this growing need. To that end, I am particularly proud of this committee’s work on conservation programs during the deliberation of the most recent farm bill. The 2014 Farm Bill contained creative, outside-the-box approaches to funding and delivering conservation programs.

“One of the biggest successes of this creative approach has been the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, known as RCPP. RCPP is an innovative approach to target conservation initiatives. It uses NRCS programs that produce known conservation improvements, and leverages that federal funding with matching funding from partners in the private sector. It has brought together broad coalitions consisting of commodity organizations, conservation groups, sportsmen, and others to unite around a common goal.

“In the first two years, RCPP has awarded funding to 199 projects across all 50 states and Puerto Rico and matched over $500 million in program funding with $900 million from partner contributions. These efforts that bring all perspectives to the table are the ones that are actually working. It takes everyone coming together.”

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief, Jason Weller, noted yesterday that, “Science-based solutions and innovative tools are also supporting the locally led approach. NRCS is advancing innovative partner-driven conservation through the [RCPP]. Created by the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP is a locally led conservation approach that is already showing results. Now in its second year, RCPP has demonstrated high demand, with over 2,000 partners leading nearly 200 projects nationwide. All told, in the first two years of the program, NRCS will have invested about $500 million while another $900 million is being brought in by partners to address locally defined, nationally significant natural resource issues. For the next round of RCPP funding, NRCS will challenge partners to consider environmental markets and conservation finance systems with agricultural opportunities.”

Frank Price, a rancher from Texas, explained at yesterday’s hearing that, “U.S. cattlemen own and manage considerably more land than any other segment of agriculture— or any other industry for that matter. Cattlemen graze cattle on approximately 666.4 million acres of the approximately 2 billion acres of the U.S. land mass. In addition, the acreage used to grow hay, feed grains, and food grains add millions more acres of land under cattlemen’s stewardship and private ownership. Some of the biggest challenges and threats to our industry come from the loss of our natural resources. The livestock industry is threatened daily by urban encroachment, natural disasters, and government overreach. Since our livelihood is made on the land, through the utilization of our natural resources, being good stewards of the land not only makes good environmental sense; it is fundamental for our industry to remain strong.”

Mr. Price noted that, “The Environmental Quality Incentive Program, or EQIP, is a cost-share program that rewards and provides incentives to producers for implementing conservation practices. When wildfire came through our ranch in 2011, we had to rebuild miles of fencing. EQIP helped us do it. One of the reasons EQIP has become popular among ranchers is because it is a working-lands program. Conservation programs that keep land in production and do not limit its use are best for both the ranchers and conserving our resources.

“Another working lands program is the Conservation Stewardship Program. CSP rewards those of us that have been conservationists and have spent the time and money in the improving of our land, water, and wildlife habitats. CSP offers cattlemen the opportunity to earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, rotational grazing, ecologically-based pest management, and buffer strips.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Michelle Lujan Grisham (D., N.M.) added at yesterday’s hearing that: “I’ve often mentioned the inadequate rainfall and drought conditions in New Mexico and the Southwest. Fortunately, there are conservation tools available to help Southwestern producers cope with these situations. I’ve heard from several New Mexican producers that the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays producers to adopt conservation activities to improve working lands, helped in keeping many farmers and ranchers on their lands and in business during the past drought, which lasted about 5 years.”

Keith Good