WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit and Rural Development, Frank Lucas, convened a hearing to review conservation programs. Specifically, Chairman Lucas wanted to make sure that current programs are working toward the environmental gains they were intended to create. This is the first in a series of hearings to examine conservation issues to better determine priorities for the Subcommittee as it prepares to reauthorize the conservation title of the 2002 Farm Bill
“Farmers and ranchers, through the assistance and incentives of these programs, have voluntarily worked to help reduce soil erosion, increase wetlands, improve water quality, and preserve farmland and wildlife habitat. The environmental gains produced are a testament to our producers who truly are the most dedicated conservationists,” said Chairman Lucas.
The 2002 Farm Bill has been characterized as the “greenest” farm bill to date. The 2002 Farm Bill created new voluntary incentive programs and increased funding for conservation programs by more than 80 percent. This landmark legislation increased the acreage allowed for sign-up under land retirement programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). It also dramatically increased the annual funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other incentive and cost share programs.
“The current farm bill was the largest investment in conservation in the history of recent farm bills. The current law is working well for producers, and though there is always room for improvement, the farm bill’s farmer-friendly spirit is its greatest success. What we’ve heard in field hearings around the country confirms this fact,” said Subcommittee Ranking Minority Member Tim Holden. “When we consider the next farm bill, we must determine whether current conservation programs are working for all regions, account for the rising cost of energy and its affect on our farm families, and examine the diversity of crops across the nation.”
The Committee heard from two panels of witnesses including Mark E. Rey, USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and various industry representatives. The Subcommittee will hold several other hearings throughout the rest of the year to review the programs within its jurisdiction.
“Writing a farm bill and conservation title within our existing budget constraints is a reality we must face. So, before we start developing new programs and looking for ways to spend additional dollars, we must first look within the current programs to make sure they are producing the environmental benefits we intended,” said Chairman Lucas.
Witness testimony from today’s hearing is available on the Committee website, and a full transcript of the hearing will be available on the Committee website 4-6 weeks following the hearing.
The Honorable Mark E. Rey, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Ms. Teresa C. Lasseter, Administrator, Farm Service Agency, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Bill Wilson, President, National Association of Conservation Districts, Kinta, Oklahoma
Mr. David E. Nomsen, Vice President of Government Affairs, Pheasants Forever, Inc., Garfield, Minnesota
Mr. Dale Schuler, President, National Association of Wheat Growers, Carter, Montana
Mr. John O'Keeffe, Cattle Producer, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Adel, Oregon
The Honorable Judith L. Schwank, County Commissioner, County of Berks, Reading, Pennsylvania