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Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman Glenn Thompson: Voluntary Conservation: Utilizing Innovation and Technology

Opening Statement: Chairman Glenn Thompson Conservation & Forestry Subcommittee Hearing: Voluntary Conservation: Utilizing Innovation and Technology

Good afternoon. I would like to welcome everyone to this hearing of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee on the topic of utilizing innovation and technology in voluntary conservation. This hearing provides an opportunity to highlight new practices, innovative approaches to using tried and true methods, and advancing technology as it applies to voluntary conservation efforts.

We know that voluntary conservation programs work. However, it has become increasingly clear that some government agencies and environmental activist organizations – which are sometimes one in the same – fail to recognize the commitment our farmers, ranchers and foresters make to environmental stewardship.

Our farmers and ranchers, through assistance and incentives provided by farm bill conservation programs, have voluntarily reduced soil erosion, increased wetlands, improved water quality, and preserved farmland and wildlife habitat.

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 to199 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.

Today we will hear firsthand how RCPP projects are being implemented in tandem with the many other programs and tools at NRCS’ disposal. I especially look forward to hearing about an RCPP project that is taking place in my home state of Pennsylvania.

Our farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of the land and continually adapt to protect our natural resources despite the overly burdensome regulatory environment imposed upon them. I see this all the time across the 5th district of Pennsylvania, where farmers are engaging in innovative practices, including no-till farming, and adhering to other best practices in order to preserve the nutrients in the soil.

In addition to the great work being done at the state and county levels, I am proud that so many of the farmers and foresters in Pennsylvania have taken voluntary steps in order to do their part to assist in the recovery of the Chesapeake Bay. The environmental gains they have achieved are a testament to our producers.

No two producers face the same natural resource concerns – whether they are 2 miles or 2,000 miles apart from each other – protecting our drinkable water supply, keeping nutrients in the soil for the next crop year, or maintaining a supply of forage for livestock, there is no shortage of reasons why we must continue to innovate when it comes to preserving our natural resources.

I would like to thank Mr. Jason Weller, Chief of the NRCS, for being here today. I encourage everyone to pay close attention to the testimony of our second panel, which is representative of a wide swath of our country. It is encouraging to see how farmers, ranchers, foresters, and stakeholders have made promoting the health and sustainability of the land a fundamental priority.

Again, thank you all for making the time to be here today. I look forward to hearing the testimony of each of our witnesses.