Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack supports provisions in the farm bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee that ties conservation compliance to crop insurance.
“It’s a deal that’s made between taxpayers, farmers and insurance companies,” said Vilsack. “In many cases, we’re paying as taxpayers 50-55-60-63% of the premium. In the past, we also provided a direct payment and as part of the direct payment deal we said in exchange for this check, we’re going to expect something in return and that is conservation compliance.”
Since it is obvious direct payments are going to be eliminated, Vilsack says it makes sense to tie crop insurance premium subsides to conservation compliance. “If you’re going to get the benefit of a premium subsidy that’s pretty significant, we’d ask you to put together a plan and be compliant with that plan.”
Vilsack spoke to members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting Tuesday and hit on a variety of issues related to the farm bill.
“The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act includes an even stronger commitment to conservation, one borne out of the efforts by environmental and agricultural groups who sat down together to find a way to protect our soil and water resources necessary to keep agriculture strong in America for generations to come,” said Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich).
The bill includes an agreement between agriculture and conservation organizations to ensure that basic soil and wetland protection requirements were extended to apply to crop insurance premium subsidies. “We’ve come up with what we think is a very workable alternative which would not limit eligibility and which would have crop insurance tied to making sure you weren’t breaking up highly erodible land or plowing up wetlands. But if you did have an accident and something happened, maybe you drained a ditch a little bit deeper than you should have, you would have two years to mitigate that problem,” said Mary Kay Thatcher with the American Farm Bureau Federation of the framework agreed to last week by 32 groups.
Several conservation-related amendments were approved for the bill in committee, including one by Senator Thune (R-SD) to ensure tracking of conversion of native prairies to crop production and another by Sen. Heitkamp (D-NV) to allow the Natural Resources Conservation Service to have more say over how to allocate technical assistance programs among programs.
The bill is expected to move to the Senate floor next week.
As both the House and Senate Agriculture committees are marking up their versions of a farm bill this week, that was the number one issue for farm broadcasters meeting in the nation’s capitol for their annual Washington Watch.
Mary Kay Thatcher with the American Farm Bureau Federation sees few major differences between the two committee drafts released last week. “If you look at all the titles, except commodities and nutrition, they’re fairly similar – there isn’t really a nickel’s worth of difference in conservation, research, rural development or specialty crops,” she said. Even the commodity titles she thinks are more similar this year than last, but there are differences in nutrition. “I still think the food stamp program is going to be the big ticket that’s going to hold us up in getting this thing done.”
Jon Doggett with the National Corn Growers Association says their top priority with the farm bill is risk management and crop insurance, which is why they joined with a number of other agriculture and environmental groups last week in hammering out a compromise to support tying conservation compliance and crop insurance but oppose means testing or payment limitations. “We worked out some common sense language that makes this a very workable program for growers that offers them plenty of opportunity that if they inadvertently get out of compliance they can quickly get back in,” he said. “In return, we have an assurance from the conservation community that they will be with us to protect the funding for crop insurance.”
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack reminded farmers and ranchers that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will conduct a four-week Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up beginning May 20 and ending on June 14. Vilsack also announced the restart of sign-up for continuous CRP, including the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement Initiative, the Highly Erodible Land Initiative, the Grassland Restoration Initiative, the Pollinator Habitat Initiative and other related initiatives. Sign-up for continuous CRP began on May 13 and will continue through Sept. 30, 2013.
Vilsack encouraged producers to look into CRP’s other enrollment opportunities offered on a continuous, non-competitive, sign-up basis.
“Water quality is complex,” said NRCS National Water Quality and Quantity team leader Shaun McKinney. “Experts usually focus on one aspect of water quality – such as temperature, nutrients or pesticide content – instead of thinking about a more complete picture.”
On the WQIag website, producers input information about their field, such as slope, soil characteristics, nutrient and pest management, tillage practices, and finally, conservation practices. The WQIag calculates these variables into a single rating on a 10-point scale: 0 being very poor; 10 being excellent.
Though some variables – such as slope and soil type – won’t change, producers can adjust other factors for a quick estimate of how conservation impacts water quality. A few clicks calculate the value of less tillage, less fertilizer and other conservation practices, which makes it versatile to use.
Vilsack explained that although applications are accepted all year, farmers, ranchers and forestland owners interested in CSP should submit applications by May 31 to their local NRCS office to ensure they are considered for this year’s funding.
Playing a significant part in conserving and improving our nation’s resources, producers enrolled an additional 12.1 million acres in CSP last year, bringing the total number of acres to more than 50 million.
A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types.
Terra Novo, a leading manufacturer of erosion and sediment control products in Bakersfield, California, is expanding its EarthGuard line to include EarthGuard EDGE, a pellet form of the popular product for erosion control. The new EDGE formula allows users to apply the product without water by hand, mechanically, or air-drop. It’s ideal for use in remote areas with limited water and for smaller jobs where hydromulching is cost-prohibitive.
Like the rest of the EarthGuard product line, EarthGuard EDGE is non-toxic, 100% biodegradable and meets NSF drinking-water standards. It is chemically engineered to absorb the impact of raindrops and provides immediate erosion control and soil stabilization until permanent vegetation is established or until construction has resumed. EarthGuard EDGE is effective for erosion control, slope stabilization, landscape design, reclamation, storm water runoff protection, fire/burn rehabilitation, land development and construction.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of $5.3 million in Conservation Innovation Grants to develop approaches and technology that will help producers adapt to extreme climate changes that cause drought. These grants will fund projects benefiting several states that were significantly impacted by last year’s drought. The United States Department of Agriculture remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. This announcement is one part of the department’s efforts to strengthen the rural economy.
The grants will address drought-related issues, such as grazing management, warm season forage systems, irrigation strategies and innovative cropping systems.
Recipients plan to evaluate innovative, field-based conservation technologies and approaches, leading to improvements like enhancing soil’s ability to hold water, evaluating irrigation water use and installing grazing systems that are more tolerant to drought.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new federal-private collaboration with DuPont to safeguard natural resources on private lands used to supply bio-based feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production.
The joint agreement between USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and DuPont aims to set voluntary standards for the sustainable harvesting of agricultural residues for renewable fuel, and supports rural job creation, additional income for farmers, bio-based energy development, and the safeguarding of natural resources and land productivity.
The announcement involves the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between NRCS and DuPont. USDA, through NRCS, will provide conservation planning assistance for farmers who supply bio-based feedstocks to biorefineries as the industry begins to commercialize. Conservation plan, written for individual operations, will ensure sustainable harvest of corn crop residues while promoting natural resource conservation and land productivity. A conservation plan is a voluntary document, written in cooperation with farmers, which helps them protect natural resources while promoting a farm’s economic sustainability.
Research, planning and implementation of the proper use of nutrients could shape food production and yields in the years ahead. A new paper from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology examines the process shaping the current nutrient situation and the resulting requirements as world food production evolves during the next 40 years.
Two of the authors of the report, Food, Fuel and Plant Nutrient Use in the Future, will discuss their findings at a 3 p.m. briefing on Monday, March 18. This briefing will be in the State Room of the DoubleTree Hotel, 1515 Rhode Island Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. There is no charge to attend and registration is not required.
Future food, fiber and fuel demands will not be met by expanding cropland area, according to the report. Continued advances in nutrient use efficiency will moderate increased nutrient demand. With growing populations, dwindling arable land, and greater demand for biofuels, the world cannot count on an expansion of harvested area to meet food demands. Genetics will be needed to improve crop productivity, promote soil conservation and management, and maximize nutrient efficiency.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA will conduct a four-week general sign-up for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), beginning May 20 and ending on June 14. CRP has a 27-year legacy of protecting the nation’s natural resources through voluntary participation, while providing significant economic and environmental benefits to rural communities across the United States. Under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, USDA has enrolled 11.7 million acres in various CRP efforts.
Currently, about 27 million acres are enrolled in CRP, which is a voluntary program available to agricultural producers to help them safeguard environmentally sensitive land. Producers enrolled in CRP plant long-term, resource-conserving covers to improve the quality of water, control soil erosion and enhance wildlife habitat. Contracts on 3.3 million acres of CRP are set to expire on Sept. 30, 2013. Producers with expiring contracts or producers with environmentally sensitive land are encouraged to evaluate their options under CRP.
Producers that are accepted in the sign-up can receive cost-share assistance to plant long-term, resource-conserving covers and receive an annual rental payment for the length of the contract (10-15 years). Producers also are encouraged to look into CRP’s other enrollment opportunities offered on a continuous, non-competitive, sign-up basis and that often provide additional financial assistance. Continuous sign-up dates will be announced at a later date.
“It is extremely unfortunate that farmers and landowners will be left without the certainty of a five-year policy and the assistance of critical programs to protect America’s land, air and water and to ensure proactive planning for a sustainable food, fiber and fuel supply for the future.
“In total, the fiscal cliff bill does not address deficit reduction, whereas the 2012 Farm Bill as passed by the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee would have saved taxpayers $23 billion and $33 billion respectively, while maintaining needed funding for important conservation programs. This bill does not raise the debt ceiling, so in two months Congress will be fighting the same budget fights that led to this deal, including the expiration of the Continuing Resolution funding the government through March 27, 2013.
“When Chairwoman Stabenow and Chairman Lucas saw the writing on the wall during the ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations, they worked together to form a 78-page thoughtful farm bill extension, tailored to the needs of the landscape. However, their work was disregarded in this deal, just as the 2012 Farm Bill was never given the opportunity to come to the House floor. In a time of tremendous drought in the West and hurricane damage in the East, the $850 million in disaster aid included in the extension plan agreed to by Senate and House Agriculture Committee Leadership was not included in this deal.
“The shortsighted extension leaves farmers and landowners without the certainty they need to plan for your future food needs as well as the resource needs of the landscape. Now that Congress has dealt with the “fiscal cliff,” we are urging House and Senate Leaders to make the passage of a long-term Farm Bill a top priority.”
In just four years, America’s top conservationists have enrolled 50 million acres in USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a program that helps farmers, ranchers and forest landowners take conservation to the next level. CSP is aimed at producers who are already established conservation stewards, helping them to deliver multiple conservation benefits on working lands, including improved water and soil quality and enhanced wildlife habitat.
The land enrolled in CSP totals more than 78,000 square miles, an area larger than Pennsylvania and South Carolina combined, making the program one of the largest voluntary conservation programs for private lands offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Nearly 12.2 million acres, or 18,750 square miles, were added to the program’s rolls this year.
Eligible landowners and operators in all states and territories can enroll in CSP. NRCS local offices accept CSP applications year round and evaluate applications during announced ranking periods.
A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types. It is available from local NRCS offices and on the CSP website.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced the start of a USDA effort meant to highlight the benefits of improving and maintaining America’s soil. “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” is an awareness and education effort that features farmers from communities in numerous states — Ohio, Indiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Indiana, Utah, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Montana and Kansas — where growers are increasingly interested in how improved soil health can benefit their operations. The agency is studying successes and identifying lessons learned in these states to share with farmers in other states.
“As world population and food production demands rise, keeping our soil healthy and productive is of paramount importance. So much so that we believe improving the health of our Nation’s soil is one of the most important endeavors of our time.
By focusing more attention on soil health and by educating our customers and the public about the positive impact healthy soils can have on productivity and conservation, we can help our Nation’s farmers and ranchers feed the world more profitably and sustainably – now and for generations to come.”
The 2008 law governing many of our nation’s farm policies expired on Sunday, September 30th, and the 2012 Farm Bill needed to replace it is bottled up in Congress. While the Senate and the House Agriculture Committees were both able to pass their versions of the new farm bill, the full House was unable to do so. While expiration of farm bill program authorities has little or no effect on some important programs, it has terminated a number of important programs and will very adversely affect many farmers and ranchers, as well as ongoing market development and conservation efforts.
Congress will return in mid-November for a lame-duck session prior to final adjournment in December. We will work to have the first order of business for the House of Representatives be to consider a new Farm Bill. We are urging our members to seek out their House members between now and the elections and remind them of the consequences of not having a new bill in place prior to adjournment at the end of the year.
Among the programs affected by expiration of the legislation are several USDA conservation programs. About 6.5 million acres rotate out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) this year and while current contracts are protected, no new signup will be allowed for CRP or the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Both of these programs are voluntary land retirement programs that helps agricultural producers protect environmentally sensitive land, decrease erosion, restore wildlife habitat, and safeguard ground and surface water. In addition, there cannot be sign up for the Wetlands Reserve Program or the Grasslands Reserve Program without new legislation.