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Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Republican Leader Glenn "GT" Thompson Full Committee on Agriculture Hearing: “Soil Health Practices and Programs that Support Regenerative Agriculture”

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Chairman Scott. 

Encouraging soil health and responsible conservation practices in agriculture have been central goals and priorities supported by Congress since the 1930s.

Through the farm bill, producers and landowners can access a variety of conservation programs and tools to incorporate activities that support a variety of natural resources. These programs are voluntary, incentive based, and locally led, while directly benefiting the producer.

Farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists and have adopted proven conservation practices to encourage soil health and other environmental benefits. Producers and landowners are also generating soil health benefits through grazing and active management of forestland.

Science, technology, and innovation have always been important for the success of agriculture. This continues to be true as we build out technologies that improve soil health. For example, biotechnology, the use of crop protection tools, and access to precision ag technology will help deliver soil health and climate benefits in both the short and long term.

Because of investments in agricultural research, the U.S. has become the most efficient agricultural producer in the world.  In fact, American farmers, ranchers, and landowners produce 278% more than in the 1940s with little to no change in inputs.

Some want you to believe that “regenerative agriculture” is somehow revolutionary, but soil health has been a fundamental tenant of the farm bill conservation programs from their very inception. In the 2018 Farm Bill, we made improvements to programs like creating a Conservation Incentive Contract that could pave the way for easier adoption of management activities like cover crops. We also made soil health a major component of the new On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials. Soil health is also a central purpose of the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Unfortunately, most of today’s panelists do not represent the breadth of the conservation movement in the United States, but a small  minority that wants to define “regenerative agriculture” as only organic. While I support farmers who want to receive a premium through organic agriculture, we cannot let the idea permeate that organic is the only way to be a conservation steward. Attacks on “industrial agriculture” or “conventional agriculture” are divisive and unhelpful.

Don’t get me wrong — soil health is critically important for American agriculture and rural communities around the nation. In fact, I was proud to host one of the first soil health hearings in 2014 as then Chairman of the Conservation, Energy, and Forestry Subcommittee. However, I think it’s necessary to make the distinction that organic agriculture production is not the only means of production that promotes and maintains soil health. I support an all-of-the-above approach when it comes to soil conservation.

We also must ensure that USDA’s conservation programs remain voluntary, locally-led and incentive based and – most importantly – keeps the producer first. The European Union’s Farm to Fork initiative has shown that tying food policy to climate policy is harmful to food production and economic viability for all. In fact, the USDA’s Economic Research Service found that the EU will see production decrease 12% and prices increase 17% by 2030 under their Farm to Fork Initiative. Worldwide, we will see a 9% price increase as a result of EU’s adoption. If there were to be global adoption of this program, worldwide food prices would increase 89% by 2030.

Looking towards the next farm bill, I will not sit idly by as we let decades of real bipartisan progress be turned on its head to satisfy people that at their core think agriculture is a blight on the landscape. I have been leaning into the climate discussion, but I will not have us suddenly incorporate buzzwords like regenerative agriculture into the farm bill or overemphasize climate within the conservation or research title, while undermining the other, longstanding environmental benefits that these programs provide.

As we begin the farm bill process, we cannot allow the promises of organic agriculture or climate policy to cause us to lose sight of the many other benefits that our current food system provides under the broad goals of farm conservation.

I yield back.