This week lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced bipartisan legislation that will benefit both agricultural businesses and taxpayers. The Farmer-Driven Conservation Outcomes Act of 2020, sponsored by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), improves farm bill authorized conservation programs for farmers and increases accountability to American taxpayers. Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA) introduced identical legislation in the House.
Too often agricultural conservation programs are evaluated based simply on dollars spent or acres enrolled, with little focus on whether this spending is actually achieving the programs’ stated goals. This legislation builds on efforts already underway at the Department of Agriculture by providing the department with statutory authority to measure, evaluate, and report on conservation program outcomes. It also directs USDA to report on program progress to Congress and the public while protecting the privacy of individual farmers and ranchers. It also directs up to 1 percent of existing conservation spending to support this improved measurement and reporting of program performance.
Each year the USDA invests billions of dollars in conservation programs, including: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). These programs help farmers to ensure that their working lands are healthy and sustainable for generations to come, protect at-risk and marginal lands across the country from degradation, and invest in our shared natural resources.
An increasing body of evidence is documenting that adoption of conservation practices can make farmers and ranchers more physically and financially resilient to production and price risk, increasing their profitability while reducing dependence on federal income subsidies. Improved measurement of agricultural conservation program performance will help ensure that investments in conservation achieve the greatest positive outcomes for both taxpayers footing the bill and farmers and ranchers implementing the programs.
Adoption of the Farmer-Driven Conservation Outcomes Act of 2020 is a critical step.