Peterson, Conaway question USDA officials at conservation hearing |

Peterson, Conaway question USDA officials at conservation hearing

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, last week expressed skepticism about the Trump administration’s implementation of certain conservation programs.

At a House Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee hearing on implementation of 2018 farm bill conservation provisions on Tuesday, Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Matthew Lohr said NRCS has launched the Conservation Assistance Ranking Tool for farmers to figure out which conservation programs work best for them.

“Overall, the improvements made through CART will enhance our customer experience and is also expected to save 200,000 hours of staff time each year,” Lohr said.

Peterson reacted angrily to the announcement, saying that Lohr had not told him about it in a meeting they had and that he believes CART amounted to “more damn crazy regulations … as a ‘top down deal.’”

Lohr replied that CART “is going to make the process easier.”

Peterson said he has “no confidence” in it, and Lohr said he will be happy to come back to Peterson and “explain its success.”

Conaway told Farm Service Agency Administrator Richard Fordyce that “farmers back home are scratching their heads” over differences in rental rates for the land-idling Conservation Reserve Program in adjoining counties.

“There shouldn’t be marked differences” in side-by-side counties, Conaway told Fordyce, who promised to work with Conaway and his staff on the issue in Conaway’s district.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., the subcommittee chair, said in an opening statement, “Programs, no matter how good they look on paper, or no matter how noble their goals may be, will only ever be as good as the people delivering them. Because of that, it’s extremely important that both NRCS and FSA are operating at full staff to achieve program benefits”

“In that regard, there are serious questions about the ability of other USDA agencies to retain and empower staff to achieve their mission, and I want to ensure that isn’t an issue at NRCS and FSA.”

But she added, “We’re not here today to bash the administration, nor are we here to greenwash the efforts already under way. We’re here for an honest look at where we stand, what’s working, and what needs more time.”

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