FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Reana Kovalcik
GROW Act to Strengthen Conservation Programs in Farm Bill
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition endorses conservation bill
Washington, D.C. March 15, 2018 – Today, Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work (GROW) Act of 2018 (S. 2557), a bipartisan bill to strengthen the farm bill’s three largest conservation programs: the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). All four co-sponsoring Senators of the GROW Act sit on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and are united in their dedication to advancing soil health and water quality in the upcoming farm bill.
“We are delighted to endorse the GROW Act,” said Alyssa Charney, Senior Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “Developing a more sustainable agriculture system that will protect our natural resources, improve family farmers’ bottom lines, and enhance our nation’s food security is the most important business at hand the next farm bill. Together CSP, EQIP, and CRP account for 90 percent of conservation spending, so focusing on enhancing these programs’ effectiveness and accessibility should absolutely be a priority in the next farm bill.”
The GROW Act invests in conservation on working agricultural lands by maintaining current acreage and funding levels for CSP, EQIP, and CRP, and increasing the acreage that can be enrolled in the CRP Grasslands Initiative by 50 percent. The bill makes major investments in soil health by offering additional support for cover crop adoption and supplemental payments for Resource Conserving Crop Rotations and Management Intensive Rotation Grazing within CSP, ensuring that farmers’ conservation investments are appropriately rewarded and incentivized by farm bill conservation programs.
“Nothing in agriculture is more fundamental than healthy, productive soils,” said Charney. “Going from ‘dirt’ to healthy soil, however, is far from easy – developing a conservation plan and implementing appropriate, targeted conservation activities can be both challenging and costly for farmers. The GROW Act will provide the assistance and incentives that farmers need to protect the natural resources on and around their operations, support the productivity of working lands, and protect the most sensitive acres.”
The GROW Act will also protect the most sensitive land by focusing CRP general sign-ups on the most highly erodible land and targeting 4 million acres to a new Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) Initiative.
“Our members are very excited about the prospects for the Grasslands and CLEAR Initiatives,” said Charney. “Emphasizing CRP’s support for partial field enrollments, such as conservation buffers, will help the program to better complement working farms and ranches while protecting natural resources.”
The GROW Act would further protect our waters by reserving at least $500 million within EQIP (28.5 percent of total funding) for conservation practices that protect source drinking water.
“The next farm bill presents a unique opportunity to make sure farmers and ranchers have the resources they need to protect drinking water for surrounding communities,” said Charney. “The GROW Act ensures that the farm bill brings significant resources to the table, including technical and financial assistance, to support farmers in their efforts to protect drinking water from nutrient runoff and pollution.”
Finally, the GROW Act recognizes that access to land is a persistent and increasingly difficult problem in agriculture, especially for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. To address this, the bill increases conservation assistance for beginning farmers seeking to access land and will include updates to CRP to help keep fertile land in production. Additionally, it increases beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer participation in working lands programs by increasing the set-aside from 5 to 15 percent in both EQIP and CSP. It also ensures that the advance payment option within EQIP automatically applies for all within this group of participants.
“Beginning farmers are determined to be stewards of the land,” said Charney, “but they can only do that if they’re given the chance to break into the industry and begin farming. Federal conservation programs can help bring in the next generation by reducing barriers to entry and by funneling more working lands conservation dollars their way.”
NSAC thanks Senators Ernst, Grassley, Brown, and Casey for their leadership in advancing these thoughtful reforms to our three largest conservation programs. In the coming weeks and months, we will be working closely with our 120+ members and our allies in Congress to make sure that these important provisions are included in the next farm bill. To learn more about the GROW Act, click here to visit NSAC’s landing page.
About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: https://sustainableagriculture.net