Thompson, Spanberger: Conservation title will keep its name
In the first hearing on the 2023 farm bill today, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, said the conservation title must remain that and not be “repurposed” as a climate title, and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., chairwoman of the House Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, which was holding the hearing, agreed.
In an opening statement at the hearing on Agriculture Department conservation programs, Thompson said the conservation title should not be “repurposed” as a climate title. The conservation title can provide climate benefits, but the emphasis “must” remain on proven conservation programs, Thompson added.
Later in the hearing, Spanberger said she looks forward to “improving the conservation title” but she emphasized that the conservation programs can help address climate change issues. In her opening statement, she said she is “thrilled that USDA is already taking bold steps to bring farmers to the table on climate-smart agriculture.”
In her opening statement, Spanberger also noted that she is “the proud sponsor of the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act. This legislation passed the Senate last year on a vote of 92-8, and it is long past time that the House follow suit and do the right thing for our farmers, rural America, and our planet.”
Thompson has said he is not satisfied with the Senate-passed bill.
Spanberger and Thompson and the two witnesses, Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux and Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Terry Cosby, appeared in person while other members including Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., ranking member on the subcommittee, were virtual.
In his opening statement, Ducheneaux noted that “folks don’t think of the Farm Service Agency as a conservation-focused agency,” though its conservation division is in charge of a number of conservation programs, most prominently the Conservation Reserve Program, the largest voluntary private lands program in the country.
In his opening statement, Cosby emphasized that his staff has continued to provide service to farmers despite the coronavirus pandemic and the many weather disasters that have occurred in the last two years. Cosby said NRCS has 10,300 employees but hopes to be fully staffed at more than 11,000 soon.
Both Ducheneaux and Cosby emphasized the innovations and flexibility their agencies have employed in recent years.
Cosby said NRCS programs are oversubscribed and that provisions in the Build Back Better bill (BBB) would help.
But when asked by Thompson if the Democrats had consulted with USDA on provisions in the Build Back Better bill, Cosby noted that USDA offers technical advice to Congress when asked, but said he could not say specifically if NRCS had been consulted on the BBB.
Thompson complained that the BBB would double conservation spending without consulting Republicans.
Ducheneaux told Spanberger that the economic value of the CRP is to improve soil quality, which improves production.
Several Republicans said that farmers have complained they could not get service due to COVID-closed offices, but Ducheneaux and Cosby both said they were proud of their staffs’ performance.
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