Today the House Ag Sub Committee on Conservation Forestry held a public hearing. Ranking Member Doug LaMalfa opened the hearing with the following statement.
Good morning and thank you to Chair Spanberger for calling today’s hearing.
Today, we are reviewing access to the nation’s voluntary conservation programs. Over the last 20 years, Congress has made significant investment in these programs by providing our farmers and ranchers the tools necessary to protect and conserve not only their land, but their way of life.
Congress has also made a conscious effort to make certain underserved producers, including socially disadvantaged, limited resource, and beginning farmers and ranchers, are not overlooked when applying for assistance.
Since 2008, both the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) have reserved 5 percent of the funds for New and Beginning Farmers to encourage the adoption of conservation practices by our next generation of producers. Additionally, another 5 percent is set aside for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers in both programs to help provide access to conservation funding.
It should be noted that over the last decade, NRCS has exceeded these allocations and has obligated over 16 percent of CSP funding and nearly 33 percent of EQIP funding to beginning farmers and historically underserved producers.
Since 2014, Congress has also recognized the contributions of our men and women in uniform by improving outreach and assistance for our veterans by authorizing a Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison at USDA, and by creating new programs and priorities to help in their transition to careers in agriculture.
Most recently, the 2018 Farm Bill improved upon all of these efforts by encouraging USDA to provide outreach to historically underserved farmers and ranchers to boost participation in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and to provide advanced payments in EQIP, just to name a few.
I do want to mention that the deliberation of the last farm bill brought forward many concerns regarding access to land. That is a significant reason why the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was reformed to eliminate government competition with farmers for productive land by reducing rental rates; as well as expanding the Transition Incentive Program (TIP). Additionally, NRCS has engaged partnerships through several cooperative agreements for outreach, and since 2012 they have worked in a collaborative effort to provide outreach and forest management technical assistance to Heirs’ Property landowners.
The Sustainable Forestry and African-American Land Retention Partnership, which includes the Forest Service and the U. S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, was initially a 2-year project in three states. But since then, the pilot has exceeded expectations and is in the process of adding new partners and more than doubling the number of states across the southeastern United States.
We have a great set of witnesses here today, and I am looking forward to continuing the discussion on what can be done to improve access to conservation programs for all producers.