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NACD Government Affairs Update: Climate-smart practices in agriculture

By Coleman Garrison

On May 12, 2021, the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry held a hearing on climate-smart practices in agriculture. Entitled “Exploring Climate Smart Practices,” this hearing was the first hearing of the current Congress for the Subcommittee and the second hearing of the House Agriculture Committee to focus on the topic after February’s full Committee hearing entitled “Climate Change and the U.S. Agriculture and Forestry Sectors.”

Throughout the hearing, five witnesses testified that for current farm bill programs to work they must be locally-led and flexible to ensure these programs can address the unique cropping systems, soil types and resource concerns across the country, and that capacity is needed at the local level to achieve success.

In Chairwoman Abigail Spanberger’s (D-VA) opening statement, she stated, “As we look to scale the adoption of conservation practices, there is perhaps no greater tool available than the farm bill’s conservation programs. Title II programs provide much needed technical and financial assistance to encourage the adoption of cover crops, reduced and no-till management systems and prescribed grazing systems — among many other climate-smart practices.”

Ranking Member Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) continued to emphasize the need for locally-led flexibility rather than a top-down approach during his opening statement.

“No singular solution will be appropriate to each crop, cropping system or region,” he said. “What works for corn in Iowa will not necessarily work for wheat out west or rice in the Mississippi Delta or rice in northern California. These programs must continue to be voluntary, which means we must offer practices that provide farmers choices.”

During their opening testimony, the witnesses continued to focus on these three points, with James Johansson, testifying on behalf of the California Farm Bureau, stating in his written testimony that “a one-size-fits-all approach or emphasizing only one or few practices will not be the best path forward for American agriculture.”

What works for corn in Iowa will not necessarily work for wheat out west or rice in the Mississippi Delta or rice in northern California. These programs must continue to be voluntary, which means we must offer practices that provide farmers choices.

In response to a question from Chairwoman Spanberger regarding farm bill conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Charles Isbell, a farmer from Virginia, stated “with the utilization of these programs and these conservation practices, we’ve been able to increase our financial bottom line in that we’re able to produce more forages and more crops, despite potential drought or lack of rainfall, because of the building of that organic matter, in addition to capturing the nutrients, which then reduces the need for additional fertilizer application. I think that it’s important to continue this funding and also ensure that the technical assistance is there to follow through with the farmers to actually be able to show the long-lasting financial and environmental benefits from these programs.”

Speaking about ensuring local input in federal programs, Kimberly Ratcliff, a rancher from Texas, in response to a question from Rep. Dusty Johnson (SD-R) on the 30×30 initiative, stated that agriculture producers “have to have a seat at the table when it comes to programs…so we can put our input in and allow us to be profitable and allow us to have some kind of success story when it comes out.”

NACD knows that the locally-led conservation delivery model that conservation districts champion is as important in current programs like EQIP and CSP as it is with new proposals like 30×30.

Agricultural producers have to have a seat at the table when it comes to programs.

NACD continues to engage with Congress about the best ways to promote conservation across the country to address unique and varied natural resource concerns. This will include increasing climate-smart practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon in the soil, but also improving water quality and quantity and other important resource concerns that districts have always worked on. We are pleased to see producers from Virginia to Texas to California supporting the same principles that conservation districts were founded on decades ago.

Coleman Garrison is NACD’s Director of Government Affairs and can be reached at coleman-garrison[at]nacdnet.org.

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