Making the Most of Conservation Dollars

Senate Ag Committee quizzes FSA and NRCS during farm bill hearing on Tuesday.

Published on: Feb 29, 2012

Senate Agriculture Committee members want a strong conservation title in the next farm bill, but also have to deal with shrinking budgets.

President Obama's budget already saves close to $1 billion over 10 years by capping Conservation Reserve Program at 30 million acres. But the question Senate Ag panel members posed to Farm Service Agency Administrator Bruce Nelson and Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White during a farm bill hearing on Tuesday is how to make the most of remaining conservation dollars in the next farm bill.

"We need to streamline conservation programs including consolidation if necessary," White said. "I realize every program has a purpose, every program has a constituency, every program has a goal and they are all worthwhile. I think it is possible to hold true to those and yet still achieve the streamlining and consolidation that would make it much easier to implement."

This would move away from an alphabet soup of programs that costs twice what it did 15 years ago and provide more flexibility.

"So we can better address our conservation needs at the local, state, regional and national levels," White said. "As for budgets it would be so wonderful if we had some increased emphasis on partnerships and working with local and state government, NGO so we could get a greater return on conservation investment."

White proposes that there needs to be continued diversification and use of targeted approaches so we get the most bang for our buck, such as the highly erodible land initiative that has recently been announced.

Nelson says he'll work with lawmakers to find new ways to allow haying and grazing on CRP lands, boosting participation in an already popular program.

FSA and NRCS also are installing new computer systems to boost their own productivity and allow producers greater access to programs on the internet.