AGRICULTURE SUBCOMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING TO REVIEW CONSERVATION TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE CONSERVATION TITLE OF THE 2002 FARM BILL
Subcommittee Chairman Lucas Says, ‘We will make sure that the implementation process is fair and equitable’
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congressman Frank Lucas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Rural Development, and Research, convened his first hearing today to review conservation technical assistance and the implementation of the Conservation Title of the 2002 Farm Bill.
Lucas called the hearing in response to an ongoing debate over how to implement funding for technical assistance for certain conservation programs. Technical assistance helps landowners plan and implement soil and water conservation practices, and is administered by USDA field staff and conservation district employees.
In his opening statement Lucas noted that all of the testimony the Committee received concluded that the current technical assistance funding is not equitable.
In speaking about the Farm Bill Chairman Lucas said, “The implementation process has proven that not everyone can agree on Congressional intent or on the meaning of certain provisions in the law. It is up to this Subcommittee to help keep the implementation process on track…We will make sure that the implementation process is fair and equitable.”
Lucas continued, “When USDA went forward with Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) sign ups, the working lands programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Farmland Protection Program (FPP), Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP), and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) were forced to pay for the technical assistance to implement CRP and WRP… All conservation programs should be implemented this year, but not if some programs have to donate their funds for other programs’ technical assistance.”
Lucas has introduced a bill with the ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Rep. Tim Holden, to prevent the conservation funds from being spent on other projects, by requiring that funds set aside for conservation programs can only be spent on those programs. The bill sets aside funding for four conservation programs - the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Farmland Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program, and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.
Congressman Holden said, "Everyone worked very hard during last years farm bill to secure conservation funding and we need to make sure programs are implemented and funded as intended. It was never our intent to have key conservation programs act as donors for others."
The hearing featured three panels. The first panel included The Honorable Jim Moseley, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture, who was accompanied by Mr. Bruce Knight, Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA, and Mr. James Little, Administrator, Farm Service Agency, USDA.
The second panel included Ms. Nita C. Vale, Executive Director, California Rangeland Trust, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, on behalf of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, South East Dairy Farmers Association, and Western United Dairymen, Mr. Marc Curtis, Producer, Leland, Mississippi, on behalf of the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Cotton Council, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association and the USA Rice Federation, Mr. Terry Detrick, Vice President, Oklahoma Farmers Union, on behalf of the National Farmers Union and Ms. Rosemarie Watkins, Senior Director of Congressional Relations, American Farm Bureau Federation.
In her written testimony Nita Vail said, “The livestock groups believe that your and Ranking Member Holden’s recent legislation on this matter serves as a fine interim measure to ensure that no funds are diverted from EQIP, GRP, FRPP and WHIP in fiscal year 2003.”
In his testimony before the committee, Mr. Scott Faber, part of the final panel of witnesses said, “We believe funds utilized for conservation technical assistance for each particular program should be assessed to and apportioned from the same program.”
The final panel featured Mr. Bill Wilson, First Vice President, National Association of Conservation Districts, Mr. Scott Faber, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense, on behalf of the Environmental Defense, National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Land Trust Alliance, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the National Wildlife Federation and Mr. Scott Sutherland, Director of Governmental Affairs, Ducks Unlimited.