Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vilsack Talks About Farm Bill and Conservation

Ag Secretary Thomas Vilsack's weekly column:

America’s farmers, ranchers and landowners have led the way in recent years to conserve and protect our soil, water and wildlife habitat.

With the help of Farm Bill programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked with a record number of producers since 2009 – more than 500,000 of them – to get this important work done.

Ever since the Dust Bowl, we’ve known that investments in conservation on working lands and other wild areas is important. And this week, a new report amplified our understanding for the critical importance of the Farm Bill in protecting natural resources in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

The report showed that over the past seven years, conservation efforts have reduced the amount of nitrogen leaving fields by 48.6 million pounds each year – about 26 percent – and reducing phosphorus by 7.1 million pounds, or 46 percent.

These conservation practices are also preventing soil erosion, helping to ensure that our farm fields across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed remain vibrant and productive in the years to come. Conservation practices have lowered the estimated amount of eroded soil by about 15.1 million tons every year, or 60 percent. Put another way, that’s enough soil to fill about 150,000 railcars.

In addition to ensuring healthy cropland and clean water, these programs strengthen wildlife habitat that boosts outdoor recreation. From hunting and fishing, to camping and hiking, outdoor recreation adds more than $640 billion in benefits to our economy each year.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed initiative is just one of many landscape-scale initiatives undertaken by USDA in recent years. From the Mississippi River Basin to the Ogallala Aquifer, USDA has worked with producers to enroll millions of acres in targeted landscape initiatives – and today’s report once again highlights the positive impact this work can have across the nation.

From clean soil to healthier water, the benefits of conservation impact every American – and they’re one reason why USDA is pressing Congress this fall to provide a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that continues our record conservation efforts.

A new Farm Bill would continue targeted conservation efforts on working lands that ensure soil quality, water quality, erosion control, forest restoration, and wildlife habitat.

It would continue major working land programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program, through which USDA has provided more than 190,000 landowner contracts since 2009, as well as the Conservation Reserve Program under which we have held a signup each year during this Administration. A new Farm Bill would also ensure that tens of millions of acres remain in conservation practices by linking crop insurance compliance to conservation program participation.

Across the nation, our farmers, ranchers and landowners are stepping up to protect our natural resources. They deserve our support – and the most important thing that can happen today is for Congress to achieve passage of a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that stands by producers and continues our long legacy of conservation.

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