National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) President-elect Earl Garber offered the following testimony at this morning’s Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, “Strengthening Conservation through the 2012 Farm Bill”:

“Good morning, Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Roberts, and Members of the Committee.  On behalf of the National Association of Conservation Districts and our 3,000 member districts across the country, I thank you for the opportunity to be here today.

“As you know, I currently serve as President Elect of NACD.  I own a rice, soybean and hay farming operation in Basile, Louisiana, and work as a crop consultant for G&H Seed Co. I have served as a board member of the Acadia Soil and Water Conservation District in Southwest Louisiana since 1981. I know firsthand the value – and the necessity – of strong conservation on the land.

“Conservation Districts are a critical link to the success of implementing conservation in America.  We were the delivery system set up in the 1930’s to be the gate keepers of private working lands.  Districts are the local authority to set work priorities, help producers implement practices with accountability, provide resource support for delivery, and bring partnerships and coalitions together.

“It’s extremely important that we protect conservation funding, simply put, conservation works.  Conservation is a tool that is available to every producer, and it helps producers avoid regulations. Producers are already faced with the challenge of doing more with less.  With further decreases in funding, the implementation of farm bill programs would be an additional challenge.  While we understand the current economic climate, we must also acknowledge the investment of putting conservation on the ground. Technical assistance is critical to ensuring Farm Bill programs are implemented with accountability. Technical assistance dollars will be more important than ever to ensure we have adequate capabilities to get conservation delivered. We are in a situation where additional cuts to conservation programs, above the $23 billion submitted to the Super Committee last fall, will put the very viability of these programs at risk. Congress needs to determine whether conservation and protection of natural resources today is more important than the escalated costs of repair in the future.

“In light of the budget situation, thank you for recognizing the value of drafting a common sense framework to submit to the Super Committee.  You demonstrated strong bipartisan, bicameral support for locally-led conservation programs that streamlined and increased efficiency wherever possible. For this reason, NACD supports consolidation of programs as an important part of the Conservation Title, and Chief White’s Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative in the field.  Individual, private landowners will benefit from streamlining when programs are easier to access and manage. As we look at consolidation, we must be careful not to lose any of the critical program functions that help complete the cycle of resource needs on the land.   For example, forestry practices in the EQIP program.  As a small, private forest landowner myself, I know that if I didn’t have this assistance, a portion of my farm would lack the management it needs, such as technical assistance for stand improvement and other forestry practices. Another example of consolidation includes farm bill easement programs. Easements retain working lands which over time include the operation and maintenance components that fee simple acquisitions do not.  We must assure that the easement programs are maintained to provide for protection of our farmland, wetlands, and highly erodible soils. The easement programs provide a “buffer effect” to land use change, which occur on many fronts of our society as the population grows and more demand is put on our natural resources. Thus, easements effectively secure the natural resources, being protected by conservation practices, to achieve economic and environmental benefits for future generations.

“Conservation programs provide a strong risk management tool -- mitigating risk for producers, landowners, homeowners and anyone who buys insurance. This past year, we have seen severe weather events, from intense drought to extreme rainfall.  Locally-led, incentive-based conservation practices are the key to protecting our natural resources across the diversity of the landscape. Every acre counts.  Agriculture is as diverse as potatoes and specialty crops in the Northeast, to Midwestern grains, to the Mississippi delta small grains and cotton, to the produce of the West.  All conservation programs work together to reach across the entire spectrum of resource needs. Depending on location, the management of resources varies, different regions have different needs.  NACD understands and promotes the importance of locally-led resource management to address the diversity of these needs across the Nation.

“In conclusion, these farm bill programs show a track record of success, and every dollar spent has seen a return.  Because of the 2008 farm bill, we are better prepared to meet future resource needs, and we must continue to fund these programs.  As a producer, I have used many of these programs on my own operation and know first-hand the tremendous value and return on investment they bring to the producer. I have had the opportunity to participate in the EQIP, CSP, and Land Treatment Watershed programs to implement conservation practices, addressing local resource conservation concerns on my farm. This concludes my testimony. Thank you, again, for allowing me the opportunity to be here today. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.”