Opening Statement: "For the purpose of receiving testimony from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency"
Washington, May 23, 2023
Rep. Jim Baird (IN-04), Chairman of the Conservation, Research, and Biotechnology Subcommittee, delivered the following opening remarks at today's subcommittee hearing entitled, "For the purpose of receiving testimony from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency."
Remarks as prepared for delivery:"Good morning. Welcome everyone to today’s hearing to discuss implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, and conservation programs administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
"Today’s hearing is an opportunity for Members of this Committee to engage directly with NRCS and FSA on implementation of the current Farm Bill and hear what we should consider as we move forward with the reauthorization process.
"Our Farm Bill conservation programs and the conservation delivery system is a proven model and is critical for addressing the many natural resource concerns before farmers, ranchers and landowners.
"Farm Bill conservation programs are voluntary and incentive based, providing direct benefits to both the environment and the producer alike.
"Another effective component of the Farm Bill’s conservation programs is that many of them are locally led. This allows for flexibility in popular programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
"I am hopeful that as we move forward with the 2023 Farm Bill, we can build on positive reforms of the last few Farm Bills, protect the essential conservation programs, and ensure that Title II programs always remain producer-first.
"In recent years, conservation programs have received more attention because of the climate-related co-benefits they provide. I recognize the importance of these co-benefits, but I also think that we shouldn’t completely reorient Title II programs towards any one natural resource concern.
"The Inflation Reduction Act provided significant new funding for four conservation programs with climate-specific funding requirements in place, meaning they sequester carbon or directly reduce emissions.
"Despite the initial price tag of nearly $20 billion, the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the Department will spend roughly $15.3 billion over the authorized period. This funding comes on top of the $3.1 billion the administration authorized through the Climate Smart Commodities Program, which was funded by the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and was created with no Congressional authority.
"I believe that as we conduct our review of the 2018 Farm Bill’s conservation title, we must examine this enormous influx in funding and how these dollars are being allocated by USDA.
"While many conservation programs are overprescribed, additional funding can’t get out the door unless we have the boots on the ground and the available technical assistance providers. This is why I was proud to introduce the Increased TSP Access Act of 2021 with Ranking Member Spanberger, which will address the Technical Service Provider shortages.
"Finally, as we look at the Farm Bill’s conservation programs, we must ensure that Title II programs will always be voluntary, incentive-based, producer-first, and locally led.
"With that, I look forward to today’s discussion and would like to welcome our witnesses: Mr. Terry Cosby, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Mr. Zach Ducheneaux, Administrator of the Farm Service Agency.
"Thank you both for your service and for being here this morning. With that, I will yield to Ranking Member Spanberger for any opening remarks she would like to make."
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