NRCS pleased with Farm Bill conservation programs

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 2014 - Conservation programs under the 2014 Farm Bill are off to a strong start, a hearing of a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee revealed.

Conservation, soil health, and Farm Bill implementation were all topics of a hearing of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry on Thursday. Jason Weller, chief of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, thanked the committee for a strong conservation title in the Farm Bill and said implementation of that title has gone well.

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“We've actually gotten Title II implemented,” Weller said at the hearing. “We haven't yet gotten the (regulations) implemented because Title II included language that allowed us to use underlying regulations as long as we updated our programs to fit the new law in the statute.”

Weller said enrollment in programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program is complete and updated regulations can be expected early this fall. He spoke very highly of the Regional Conservation Partnerships in the new Farm Bill, calling them an “overarching smorgasbord of opportunity.”

Aside from Farm Bill implementation, Weller said he was encouraged by the enthusiasm for conservation and cover crops demonstrated by those working the land.

“We're actually having to run to keep pace with producers,” Weller said of advances in soil health and conservation. “They've been true pioneers in these approaches in soil health. We're learning from them.”

Weller pointed to the expansion of precision agriculture as an area where NRCS “has got to pick it up.”

NRCS views soil as a “living factory,” Weller said, emphasizing keeping all of the parts healthy and working. In citing scientific findings about the amount of microorganisms that exist in even a small

“Anything can have quality, but only living things can have health,” Weller said.

As efforts in conservation become more and more widespread, a panel of experts said implementation of these practices on the nation's farms still takes some convincing. In many cases, the land has been in the same hands for generations with a great deal of success. Weller said that pattern of success can lead to producers being skeptical of change.

“If they can get a crop and make a living and they're doing OK, why introduce what could potentially be risk by trying something different?” Weller said.

National Association of Conservation Districts CEO John Larson said many producers view conservation practices such as no-till agriculture and the use of cover crops as a business decision, so information should be tailored to how it would help their bottom line.

“With that, we can't just go off anecdotal information, we need to have good, sound research,” Larson said at the hearing. “We need to have case studies. We need to have the ability to demonstrate, not just from the perspective of many have done it, but from the perspective of how it fits into that business decision.”

The subcommittee hearing was potentially the last official gathering of members of the House Agriculture Committee of the 113th Congress.

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