Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Bob Casey, D-Penn., have introduced the Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work Act of 2018, 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).
“We are delighted to endorse the GROW Act,” said Alyssa Charney, Senior Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “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% 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 doubling the acreage that can be enrolled in the CRP Grasslands Initiative. 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.
The GROW Act will reserve at least $500 million within EQIP (28.5% 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% in both EQIP and CSP. It also ensures that the advance payment option within EQIP automatically applies for all within this group of participants.
Source: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition