The American Farm Bureau Federation said recently that farmers and the non-farm public both benefit from the nation's agricultural conservation programs. The organization told members of a Senate Agriculture subcommittee that current conservation funding levels should be maintained and that programs work best when they are based on sound and flexible rules.
In testimony before the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation and Rural Revitalization, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Al Christopherson, a member of the AFBF Board and Executive Committee, said conservation incentives are the best way to defray the costs associated with increased regulations facing farmers.
"Farmers and ranchers understand the importance of protecting the environment," Christopherson said. "Our livelihoods depend on it."
Christopherson said, however, that expenses incurred to comply with environmental regulations could take a bite out of farm income. This can hasten the growth in farm size as farmers and ranchers attempt to spread costs over more units of production.
The Minnesota farmer said the proposed rule on the Conservation Security Program (CSP) would lead to eligibility restrictions and inadequate financial compensation for participants. Those details, he said, would severely reduce the number of participants. Christopherson also said the definition of "agricultural operation" should allow for tenants to work with multiple landowners. AFBF opposes a requirement that a tenant farmer have control of rental land for the duration of the contract because it would limit the abilities of commercial-sized producers to participate.
Christopherson expressed concerns that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has not been adequately monitoring Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) projects.
Particularly troubling to AFBF was that only $105 million of the $483 million of the program in 2003 was allotted to assisting animal feeding operations with regulatory compliance. Christopherson proposed a restructuring of NRCS priorities, placing more emphasis on animal feeding operations.
Due to a lack of technical-assistance funding for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), other conservation programs have had to provide those funds.
AFBF believes each program should cover its own technical-assistance delivery costs as not to upset the financial balance of the farm bill, Christopherson said.
Christopherson also addressed farmers' concerns regarding technical assistance providers, stating that farmers' personal information should remain confidential so as not to be accessed by outside agencies. He said AFBF supports a requirement that technical providers be bonded with liability insurance and services should come at a cost based on the NRCS's cost of service.
Christopherson urged NRCS to produce an easily understood procedure guide for producers planning to use technical service providers. He said AFBF also supports the coordination of training and certification between states so providers can operate in more than one state.