Soil conservation leader seeks efficiency

Dave White was practical, yet excited about the future, when he sat down for an exclusive interview with Farm Progress. He knows budgets will be tighter in the days ahead, but he’s still confident that conservation partners will move forward nationwide.

White is chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. With more than 30 years with the agency, he has a good handle on what’s been accomplished and what still must be done. He’s also convinced there will be ways to get it done through increased efficiency.

“I had a good feeling that soil conservation was faring well as the supercommittee held discussions,” he relates. “Of course, the committee didn’t turn out to have all the answers. Now we’ve got to look toward the 2012 Farm Bill debate.”

Key Points

NRCS chief expects the agency will be asked to do more with less.

Various cost-share programs may be combined to streamline operations.

The CRP will likely continue, although there may be funding for fewer acres.

White expects to be called before the Senate ag committee to testify as early as late February. However, a realist, he understands that the 2012 Farm Bill debate could drag into 2013 since it’s an election year. If that happens, he expects the last farm bill provisions will be extended temporarily.

White doesn’t expect Congress will walk away from its commitment to soil and water conservation. However, he expects to be asked to streamline his agency and do more with less. He’s confident creative staffing schedules within states will help get more work done, coupled with exciting new computer software that makes existing people more effective.

Combine programs

Another form of streamlining will likely be combining some conservation programs together, he stresses. “We probably don’t need three easement programs, but we need one that addresses all the issues.”

District conservationists across the country will still have tools to help farmers accomplish the same things they’re accomplishing now. There just may be fewer tool boxes. Some inside the agency have suggested for years that some incentive programs could be combined, making it easier for farmers to understand and more efficient for conservationists to work with.

Just because there may be less money available for conservation nationwide when the smoke clears doesn’t mean the job can’t get done, White insists. For example, he expects the Conservation Reserve Program, technically a Farm Service Agency program, will continue, although the number of acres allowed in the program at any one time may be reduced. His guess is that the cap may be placed somewhere below 32 million acres nationwide.

The continuous CRP program, which allows farmers to sign up for filter strips, waterways, buffer strips and other practices through FSA, will likely continue, White believes. In fact, as CRP pulls back and acres roll out of the program, he expects district conservationists in the field will be working with producers, suggesting various continuous CRP practices to solve the worst soil erosion problems on those acres that roll out of CRP.

Bright future:
NRCS Chief Dave White looks forward to the challenge of continuing conservation efforts on less funding by streamlining the agency and increasing efficiency.

This article published in the February, 2012 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.