Conservation push: Two ag groups support GROW Act

Two conservation-minded farm organizations are applauding a bipartisan bill that would maintain funding and acreage levels for the farm bill's three largest conservation programs.

"We're excited to see this bipartisan support for conservation in the farm bill," Anna Johnson, policy analyst with the Center for Rural Affairs, told Forum News Service.

Four senators — Iowa Republicans Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley as well as Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania — have introduced the Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work, or GROW, Act.

The proposed legislation would:

• Maintain Conservation Reserve Program acreage at 24 million acres. CRP gives landowners an annual per-acre payment to take environmentally sensitive farmland out of production. The land receives a specially designed vegetative cover that reduces soil erosion, improves soil and air quality and develops wildlife habitat.

• Maintain the current level of allowing 10 million new acres in 2018 into the Conservation Stewardship Program. CSP pays ag producers and forest landowners to actively manage, maintain and expand conservation practices, such as cover crops and buffer strips, while continuing active ag production on their land.

• Maintain annual funding of $1.75 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. EQIP provides ag producers with financial resources and one-on-one help to plan and implement improved conservation practices.

The GROW Act also receives support from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

"Together CSP, EQIP amd 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," Alyssa Charney, senior policy specialist with the NSAC, said in a written statement.

The existing farm bill, the centerpiece of U.S. food and agricultural policy, expires this fall. Congress, with substantial input from farm organizations, is working to write and approve a new one. Johnson said she's optimistic that the final farm bill will contain provisions in the proposed legislation.

The GROW Act properly emphasizes protecting the most sensitive ag land, Charney said.

The proposed legislation would strengthen efforts to build healthy soils and protect water quality, as well as emphasizing conservation in CRP, Johnson said.

The GROW Act is similar to the Strengthening Our Investment in Land (SOIL) Stewardship Act of 2018 introduced earlier in the U.S. House by Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.

The Center for Rural Affairs, based in Lyons, Neb., works "to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches and rural communities through action-oriented programs addressing social, economic and environmental issues."

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., 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."

By Jonathan Knutson / Agweek Staff Writer 

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