It’s planting season in Iowa. It’s baseball season across the nation. Grilling season is around the corner. And it’s farm bill season in Washington, D.C. While much attention will be given to the commodity title and to the nutrition programs, cattle farmers and ranchers nationwide urge lawmakers to not overlook the important conversation programs authorized in the farm bill. These programs help farmers like myself improve and sustain the land and its resources and also comply with environmental regulations handed down by the federal government.
America’s cattlemen and women are committed to raising the most wholesome, safest and nutritious beef products in the world. We have continually used science to find ways to produce more beef by using fewer natural resources. Don’t take my word for it. According to a study by Washington State University, compared to 1977, beef production today results 16.3 percent less carbon emissions; takes 33 percent less land; and requires 12 percent less water. All of this was achieved with 30 percent fewer cattle. While those are good statistics and proof of our commitment to environmental stewardship, there is always room to improve.
The livelihood of our industry is directly related to the health of the land, soil, air and water throughout the cattle industry. Cattlemen have a vested interest in keeping the land healthy and productive, water and air clean and wildlife abundant while maintaining diverse ecosystems. In the beef cattle industry, we continually evaluate the latest science to help in decisions to further conserve these resources. It is our responsibility to operate as environmentally friendly as possible and utilizing tools through the conservation programs in the farm bill will help us in further strengthening a partnership with the government.
NCBA’s policy on natural resources and conservation emphasizes the government’s role to enhance an individual’s right of free choice in land use, soil and water conservation, energy use and development utilizing working lands. All of these methods should be based on sound science and economics. State laws and individual private rights should be preeminent in the use of water and other natural resources. To accomplish this overall policy NCBA supports efforts in the farm bill to do the following:
• Improve existing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) programs to encourage voluntary participation;
• Maintain equitable funding for conservation programs important for beef producers and associated natural resources to ensure the livestock sector is not disproportionately impacted by budget limitations, budget reductions or other program funding changes;
• Federal conservation programs that provide flexibility to states;
• A preference to USDA NRCS programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), that enhance air, soil and water quality, wildlife habitat and grazing land health on all lands in production,
• A continuation of the voluntary NRCS Grassland Reserve Program and Farm and Ranchland Protection Program for the protection of working agricultural lands for future generations; and
• Continued funding for the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) to meet increased demand for the Grazing Reserve Pilot Program within WRP.
Within the conservation title of the farm bill, NCBA and its state affiliates support efforts to maintain continued support for working lands programs while increasing the effectiveness and flexibility of the programs. Knowing the limited resources that are available, we encourage overlap and redundancy in programs be eliminated and efficiency of programs improved. The way to get the best value out of these program dollars is to have the method of delivery as clear, concise and quick as possible.
EQIP is the most popular and effective programs utilized among cattle producers. This voluntary financial cost-share program provides incentives to cattle producers for their environmental stewardship. NRCS assists producers in the development of long range conservation plans and then offers incentives through cost sharing for the landowner to incorporate best management practices to accomplish the objectives of the plan. EQIP is the best tool cattlemen on the ground have to implement conservation practices that allow them to be in compliance with environmental regulations, which continue to threaten my ability to continue raising cattle.
EQIP is not the only conservation program cattlemen support and encourage Congress to include in the next farm bill. Other programs we support include the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) and the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP). These programs help keep landscapes intact, keep producers on the land, address resource concerns and mitigate mounting environmental pressures.
USDA’s conservation programs are a great asset to cattle producers. As this farm bill season heats up, I look forward to working with NCBA and members of Congress to ensure that conservation programs are continued and refined to make them more producer-friendly and more effective in helping cattle farmers and ranchers produce safe, wholesome beef while also conserving the land and its resources.
Source: Dave Petty, Iowa farmer and rancher