Dear Sens Brown and Ernst: We appreciate your leadership on conservation

Ten organizations, including the Center for Rural Affairs, joined together to sign and send a letter to Sens. Brown and Ernst on Sept. 4, 2018.

The letter thanks the two lawmakers for introducing the Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work Act of 2018, or GROW Act, and for securing important conservation wins in the Senate version of the farm bill.

Dear Senator Brown and Senator Ernst,

The country is at an important crossroads for conservation. Farmers are increasingly interested in adopting practices to preserve soil health, protect water quality, and invest in greater resiliency. Federal conservation programs play a crucial role by offering a pathway for farmers and ranchers to implement and adopt conservation practices and move toward whole farm conservation planning.

We are writing to thank you for introducing S. 2557 - Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work Act of 2018, or GROW Act, and for securing important conservation wins in the Senate bill. We also ask you to protect critical conservation wins from the GROW Act during conference negotiations. As leaders on conservation, co-sponsors of the GROW Act, and Senate Agriculture conferees, we urge you to continue to work to preserve those provisions in the final farm bill. As states like Iowa and Ohio continue to face unique water quality challenges, it will be critical to protect voluntary conservation practices that help farmers implement good conservation practices.

First, funding is critical for this work: please do all you can to protect funding for conservation and reject any cuts to total conservation title funding. We are particularly grateful for your work to protect the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and urge you to continue to stand up for these critical working lands conservation programs as negotiations continue.

In addition, we ask you to also please protect provisions from the GROW Act that are included in S. 3042 - Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. In particular, the emphases and improvements to comprehensive conservation planning within CSP would lay a path for more farmers to address the major conservation concerns for their land and operations. The improvements to conservation programs that we ask you to preserve include the following:

  • Direct USDA to enhance coordination between EQIP and CSP to ensure an EQIP participant is able to seamlessly enroll in CSP after meeting the stewardship threshold for at least two priority resource concerns.
  • Increase payments for cover crops, resource conserving crop rotations, and advanced grazing management to encourage wider use of these particularly beneficial practices.
  • Authorize CSP payments for comprehensive conservation planning to ensure that farmers are compensated for some of their costs for undertaking whole farm comprehensive conservation planning.
  • Modify EQIP and CSP to be more accessible to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. Specifically, increase the percentage of total minimum EQIP funds and total CSP acres awarded – from 5 percent to 15 percent – to beginning farmers and ranchers and to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers each year. Also, ensure that an advance payment option under EQIP is automatically applied for historically underserved participants, of 50 percent of the cost share.

We appreciate your leadership on conservation in the Senate farm bill and reiterate the need to protect conservation funding and practices during conference negotiations.

Respectfully submitted:
Boone County Farmers and Neighbors, Iowa
Center for Rural Affairs, Iowa and Nebraska
Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa
Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa
Iowa Organic Association, Iowa
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Ohio
Ohio Environmental Council, Ohio
Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa
Prudenterra, Iowa
Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT), Iowa