April 26, 2012
On Thursday, the Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry of the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on conservation programs in the next Farm Bill. Among the witnesses was Carl Homan of Homan Dairy Farm in Centre County Pennsylvania, who testified on behalf of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Mr. Homan spoke about how the use of conservation programs on his family farm has improved both the conservation performance and the economic performance of the farm. The Homan family has lived on the dairy since 1906 and the dairy has been designated by the state as a Pennsylvania Century Farm.
The Homan Farm has acreage enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a Pennsylvania Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program intended to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). In addition, the Homans received funding through a Conservation Cooperative Partnership Initiative sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The Initiative includes a Healthy Dairies, Healthy Streams component that helped fund a concrete base and a walkway with a geo-surface in the barnyard that makes it easier to separate water from manure. The surface keeps the cows cleaner and has improved herd health.
Among other requests, Mr. Homan called for Congress to maintain a strong funding base for the CSP, with a simplified system to rank proposals solely by the environmental benefits score for the total conservation system in the proposal. He also asked that producers be allowed to renew CSP contracts, if they have satisfied all previous contract obligations and increased their conservation score since the last renewal. Homan also urged Congress to ensure the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is managed in a way that more conservation buffers can be enrolled in the program.
In his opening remarks at the hearing, the Committee’s Ranking Member, Collin Petersen (D-MN), spoke about land in his district that is coming out of the CRP contracts but should not be put back into cultivation. He emphasized that the next Farm Bill should include a sodsaver provision, similar to that included in the Farm Bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee today, that would discourage the cultivation of land unsuitable for cropping.
Most of the witnesses representing organizations at the hearing recommended that the House not make cuts in the Farm Bill conservation programs greater than the $6 billion in cuts proposed by last year by House and Senate Agriculture Committees to the “Super Committee” on deficit reduction.
In addition, many of the witnesses stated their concern about the aging farmer population in the U.S. and stated their support for the Conservation Reserve Program’s Transition Incentives Program for beginning farmers and ranchers and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.