The Bush proposal, forwarded to the Congress from the Office of Budget and Management on Jan. 7, 2003, would establish a new $332 million discretionary account to fund technical assistance services for federal financial conservation programs but at the expense of other U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation, nutrition and other programs.

Currently, USDA delivers conservation technical assistance through the Natural Resource Conservation Service to land managers that participate in federal financial assistance programs, as well as to producers who bear the full costs of installing conservation measures. This proposal would significantly reduce federal funding used to assist producers who apply conservation practices at their own expense, and redirect these resources to producers who also receive federal funding to offset the cost of installing conservation measures.

The proposal would also impair the ability of USDA to collaborate with state and local governments in addressing private lands conservation challenges because federal funding to offset shared costs would be drastically reduced.

NACD President J. Read Smith called the move "ill-conceived and shortsighted," noting the irony that the proposal penalizes the producers who are voluntarily spending their own money for conservation measures that provide important public benefits.

"While we clearly support much of the President’s private lands conservation agenda, it appears that he was not fully apprised of the negative impacts that this proposal would have on producers and longstanding intergovernmental agreements that were struck to help land managers apply conservation measures," said Smith.

NACD is calling on Congress to reject the proposed amendment and to instead fully fund conservation technical assistance as mandated by law in the 2002 Farm Bill.