Opening Statement: Subcommittee Chairman Frank Lucas: Conservation & Forestry Subcommittee Hearing: The Next Farm Bill: Conservation Policy
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Good morning and welcome to today's hearing.
For some of us, it's hard to believe that it's already farm bill time again. To some degree, it feels like we just finished hashing out the details of the last farm bill. But, it's true that we are already entering the 4th year of the Agricultural Act of 2014, and that means we must now set about the hard work of preparing for the next farm bill.
As Chairman Conaway noted at the rural economic outlook hearing two weeks ago, we are entering this farm bill reauthorization against a much different backdrop. Net farm income has been cut in half over the past 4 years, the steepest 4-year percentage decline since the start of the Great Depression.
As I’ve noted before, we write farm bills for the bad times—not the good times—and our nation’s farmers and ranchers are certainly struggling right now. While the 2014 Farm Bill has been vital in responding to needs in the countryside, we revisit farm bills roughly every 5 years to make sure they are attuned to current conditions in the countryside.
To that end, we are starting an important aspect of that work this morning. Over the course of the next month, each subcommittee will hold hearings focused on the portions of the farm bill that fall under their respective jurisdictions. Each subcommittee is going to be asking stakeholders to give us their farm bill ideas—sooner rather than later.
Today we are focusing on the nation's voluntary conservation initiatives. These initiatives have undergone many changes over the past two decades, during which time I served as the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the subcommittee of jurisdiction for the conservation title and then as Chairman of the Full Committee.
Once again, I have the pleasure to serve in a familiar role to begin this process. I take conservation policy very seriously. My dedication to conservation comes from being raised by folks who lived through the drought and dust bowl of the 1930s and the drought of the 1950s, both of which caused some of the hardest times rural America has ever experienced.
As a Western Oklahoma farmer, I have also seen firsthand the important role conservation plays in making sure that a dust bowl never happens again. While this Committee cannot control the weather, we can provide our farmers and ranchers the tools necessary to protect and conserve not only the land, but also their way of life.
Congress has acknowledged this over the past 20 years by making significant investments in conservation policy. We expanded our commitment to important initiatives like CRP and EQIP, while also creating new tools like CSP to expand the use of on-farm conservation practices.
The Conservation title of the 2014 Farm Bill answered the call for meaningful deficit reduction, saving taxpayers $6 billion by consolidating 23 programs into 13, further streamlining and targeting delivery to farmers, ranchers, and foresters.
I’m proud of the work we have accomplished over the years, and I’m proud of the work of the farmers, ranchers and forest owners who implement these important conservation practices. I think the results speak for themselves—voluntary conservation works.
That said, I understand that no policy is perfect, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about how these critical tools can be improved to address new natural resource challenges.
Thanks to all of our witnesses who have taken time from your work and families to join us today. We appreciate your efforts and your willingness to share your thoughts on the future of conservation policy.
I must also mention how delighted I am to be partnered with our ranking member, Mrs. Fudge.
With that, I yield to the Ranking Member for any opening remarks she would like to make.