SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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REVIEW OF USDA'S ADMINISTRATION OF THE CONSERVATION RESERVE PROGRAM
GENERAL FARM COMMODITIES, RESOURCE
CONSERVATION, AND CREDIT
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS
JULY 22, 1999
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Serial No. 10630
Printed for the use of the Committee on Agriculture
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
LARRY COMBEST, Texas, Chairman
BILL BARRETT, Nebraska,
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
NICK SMITH, Michigan
TERRY EVERETT, Alabama
FRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
HELEN CHENOWETH, Idaho
JOHN N. HOSTETTLER, Indiana
SAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
KEN CALVERT, California
GIL GUTKNECHT, Minnesota
BOB RILEY, Alabama
GREG WALDEN, Oregon
MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Idaho
DOUG OSE, California
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
ERNIE FLETCHER, Kentucky
CHARLES W. STENHOLM, Texas,
Ranking Minority Member
GEORGE E. BROWN, Jr., California 1
GARY A. CONDIT, California
COLLIN C. PETERSON, Minnesota
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
DAVID MINGE, Minnesota
EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
VIRGIL H. GOODE, Jr., Virginia
MIKE McINTYRE, North Carolina
DEBBIE STABENOW, Michigan
BOB ETHERIDGE, North Carolina
CHRISTOPHER JOHN, Louisiana
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
DAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
KEN LUCAS, Kentucky
MIKE THOMPSON, California
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
WILLIAM E. O'CONNER, JR., Staff Director
LANCE KOTSCHWAR, Chief Counsel
STEPHEN HATERIUS, Minority Staff Director
KEITH WILLIAMS, Communications Director
Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, Resource Conservation, and Credit
BILL BARRETT, Nebraska, Chairman
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio,
NICK SMITH, Michigan
FRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
DOUG OSE, California
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
DAVID MINGE, MN,
Ranking Minority Member
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
DAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr. Georgia
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
1\ Deceased July 16, 1999.
C O N T E N T S
H.R. 408 To amend the Food Security Act of 1985 to expand the number of acres authorized for inclusion in conservation reserve.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Barrett, Hon. Bill, a Representative in Congress from the State of Nebraska, opening statement
Minge, Hon. David, a Representative in Congress from the State of Minnesota, opening statement
Stenholm, Hon. Charles W., a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas, opening statement
Grau, Thomas, Deputy Under Secretary, Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Harnack, Ronald, executive director, Board of Water and Soil Resources, State of Minnesota
Nomsen, David E., vice-president, governmental affairs, Pheasants Forever, Inc.
Peterson, Hon. Collin C., a Representative in Congress from the State of Minnesota
Peterson, Max, executive vice-president, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Smith, J. Read, first vice-president, National Association of Conservation Districts
Stawick, David, president, National Conservation Buffer Council
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPrepared statement
Letter of April 12, 1999 to Mr. Parks Shackelford, submitted by Mr. Moran
National Grain and Feed Association, statement
REVIEW OF USDA'S ADMINISTRATION OF THE CONSERVATION RESERVE PROGRAM
THURSDAY, JULY 22, 1999
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities,
Resource Conservation and Credit,
Committee on Agriculture,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10:35 a.m. In Room 1300, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Bill Barrett (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Boehner, Smith of Michigan, Lucas of Oklahoma, Moran, Thune, Hayes, Minge, Phelps, Hill, Clayton, Pomeroy, and Stenholm [ex officio].
Also present: Representative Peterson.
Staff present: David Ebersole, senior professional staff; Russell Laird, senior professional staff; Hunter Moorhead, legislative assistant; Wanda Worsham, clerk; and Anne Simmons, minority consultant.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BILL BARRETT, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEBRASKA
Mr. BARRETT. The hearing of the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, Resource Conservation, and Credit will come to order.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The subcommittee meets today to review the Conservation Reserve Program and examine H.R. 408, a bill which was introduced by our colleague, Representative Collin Peterson from Minnesota, to expand the current acreage limitation to 45 million acres.
All of us know that the CRP is a large and important program, and most of us will agree it has brought significant soil and water conservation benefits to our rural areas since it was established under the Food Security Act of 1985. CRP acreage peaked at 36.4 million acres in 1996 at an annual cost of around $1.9 billion. Current enrollment is now 31.3 million acres. For all of its popularity within the conservation community and among farmers and ranchers it has not been administered without controversy. Retiring land from annual crop production is hard on many rural economies. Although the balancing of conservation and production restrictions has worked very well in most areas of the country, it may be time that Congress takes a look at our policy on long-term land retirements.
The CRP has accomplished many good things over the years. It has not been good enough, however, to live up to the Environmental Working Group's 1994 assessment published in the report entitled ''So long CRP.''
That report stated that we could solve most domestic agriculture's environmental problems by continuing the funding commitment of the CRP. In fact, the Clinton administration, USDA, and environmental groups are asking the Congress not for the status quo but to do more: more wetlands restoration, more livestock regulation, more farmland preservation, and more contributions to wildlife habitat.
Today, however, USDA allows more than 5 million acres of statutory authority to remain on the shelf. The obvious question is: Why is that?
If H.R. 408 was enacted, would those authorities be used, assuming that USDA is not now fulfilling its current responsibilities? As some of us will recall, one of the major debates of the 1995 farm bill was to move expiring CRP acres out of the Plains States and the western Corn Belt to an eastward area over the Mississippi River. Proponents of this action argue that it would be a benefit to water quality concerns in the Eastern States and give those States their fair share of conservation benefits provided by the CRP.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But an examination of what has occurred since enactment of the 1996 farm bill reveals there is very little more land enrolled in the Eastern States now than before the advent of the new farm bill.
Indeed, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, CREP, which was designed for water quality purposes, has been slowly progressing in the Eastern States. The Maryland CREP, which I believe was the first to be approved, has a very, very modest success story. Maryland's goal of enrolling 100,000 acres or 50,000 acres, depending on whose goal we are discussing, has fallen well short of either mark.
So far, landowners have devoted about 10,000 acres to the program. New York State signed an agreement about a year ago, North Carolina and Delaware have signed agreements recently, Pennsylvania and Virginia have pending applications. And today we will attempt to find out what impediments restrict the use of 5 million acres of CRP authority, why the CREP and other priority areas are not attracting landowners in eastern States, and how USDA could make beneficial use of the 45-million-acre CRP.
I hasten to add, Mr. Grau, that the committee did receive your 17-page statement at 9:13 this morning by e-mail. Committee staff made copies that are now before the Members. Obviously no member of the committee or subcommittee has reviewed it. I can understand and I am very certain that other Members will agree that there are times when situations like this cannot be helped. Unfortunately, this is not the first time when committee staff has had to assemble the Member's testimony packets either very late in the evening or at the very last minute, as they did this morning.
The Department's tardiness in getting the testimony up here has become, I am afraid, a very routine occurrence. Your testimony will not receive the attention it deserves. It contains numerous tables that need to be examined very carefully. Time did not allow that to be done. This is very unfortunate. I would hope that you take a message back that we are tired of this practice. I also ask that you remind the administration that somewhere in the mail room down there, there are two unanswered letters from Chairman Combest about this very problem. This is absolutely unacceptable.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [H.R. 408 follows:]
["The Official Committee record contains additional material here."
Mr. BARRETT. I now yield to the ranking member, Mr. Minge.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. DAVID MINGE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MINNESOTA
Mr. MINGE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the fact that this hearing has been called. I look forward to the testimony of my colleague, Collin Peterson from Minnesota.
I would like to join your comments about the importance of the conservation programs that we have, especially the Conservation Reserve Program. We do have concerns about the unused acreage and also the importance of having additional flexibility in the use of the program. We have areas of the country where the program appears to be well established and well used. We have other areas of the country where there is very strong demand for participation and we have not had a level of enrollment that we would have hoped, given that demand and given the characteristics of farming in the area.
We also are facing tremendous pressure because we have unique circumstances in different parts of the country and it does not appear that the Conservation Reserve Program is adequately flexible to address those particular problems. I know that Mr. Peterson's testimony will highlight something that exists in the upper Midwest in the Red River Valley.
I would also like to join in the comments of the chairman regarding CREP. The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program has been implemented in the Minnesota River Basin in Minnesota. That happens to be an area that is principally in the second district that I represent but also extends into the First and Seventh Congressional Districts. The CREP is one that has great promise and we hope that it is implemented successfully and becomes a model for a State-Federal partnership throughout the country. It is certainly in partnership with respect to conservation programs.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is certainly important that we examine ways to take highly-erodible land out of production during periods of tremendous crop surplus and low prices. And in this respect, I don't see that this committee is urging that we return to a set-aside program where we have acreage that is taken out on an annual basis in trying to respond to market factors, which is very difficult and awkward to do. But I do sense that there is a recognition that when we have both price problems because of overproduction and we have tremendous crop loss problems in certain areas and we have conservation and environmental issues that are coming up on an increasing basis, that we have to have the greatest level of flexibility, and trying to use the national environmental benefits index may not be the most nimble way to address these particular local situations.
So, we hope that as a result of this hearing we will glean yet additional information, and that we can not only act on Mr. Peterson's legislation but that we can also develop other proposals that will greatly improve this very important conservation mission of the Federal Government. I look forward to the testimony.
Mr. BARRETT. I thank the gentleman. The Chair is pleased to note that the ranking member of the full Agriculture Committee, Mr. Stenholm, has joined us.
Mr. Stenholm, would you care to make a statement?
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. CHARLES W. STENHOLM A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF TEXAS
Mr. STENHOLM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to make a few observations today. First off, I thank you for holding this oversight hearing. I think it is very timely and it will give a lot of folks a chance to comment on several issues regarding CRP.
One of the fundamental questions that I will have to ask and answer myself: Is an increase in CRP acreage the best use of conservation dollars? I am a little bit surprised that conservation wildlife groups are supporting the effort when folks are assuming that any additional large chunks of acreage that might be enrolled would probably have to come in under much lower EBI scores.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The question is: Are there more pressing needs in conservation if we are able to secure additional funding? And that has a big question mark.
For those who would use CRP as a supply control program, as Mr. Minge just stated, I am concerned we don't jeopardize the goodwill the program has built for us with the environmental community. And again, I think setting aside acreage is probably not in reality going to increase prices with the world market situation we are facing. It would just mean more imports of wheat from Canada, cotton from China and soy beans from Brazil and Argentina.
Again I think the question you on this subcommittee and we on the full committee with the views that will be expressed by Mr. Peterson, which certainly are validthe question is scarce use of funds.
Here, Mr. Chairman, I want to make an observation, and I believe that I am factual. If we pass the tax cut of $792 billion today, there will be no additional money for CRP or any other program. I think that is a fact. And I think that is something we have to take into consideration.
The fact that we have all stated we are not going to touch Social Security funds is creating an interesting dimension now because I assume everybody is very honest in their views on this. And if so, that means we are going to see some reconciliation bills, even reconciliation bills that deal with mandatory spending, if we are sincerely not going to touch Social Security trust funds over the next 10 years.
I worry about that because that means that the emergency we have got in agriculture, there is not going to be any funding available. Once you pass the tax cut, you are spending all available funds. That is a given. And we can't get around that.
And that is what worries me so much about what we are about to do today. But it is directly applicable to what we talk about today, because I think there are some extreme needs in agriculture that are going to have to be met, but we can't spend the same money twice. That is why as we look at CRP we have to answer the question: Is this the best way to spend the funds?
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That is why this committee in the hearing today and the work that you will do will answer that question. But I hope we don't tie ourselves into such a tight box that there is no possible way we can deal with the pressing needs of agriculture. And I say that in light of the discussion that will go on on the floor in just a moment, and ask that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle here in the Agriculture Committee really take a good hard look at that, because that is the reality of the decisions that we are making. And I hope that will go into this hearing today.
And I thank you for yielding me this time, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Stenholm.
Other members of the subcommittee are advised that opening statements may be submitted for the record.
I am pleased now to introduce our colleague from the seventh district of Minnesota, Mr. Peterson.
STATEMENT OF HON. COLLIN PETERSON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MINNESOTA
Mr. PETERSON of Minnesota. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I thank you very much for holding this hearing today. I have been working on this issue for a long time and my personal interest in this goes back to when I was a kid. And back on the farm in Minnesota, we used to have a lot of pheasants and ducks because we had the Soil Bank Program, and they got rid of it and we lost all of our pheasants and ducks. And one thing the CRP has done is reestablished a lot of that all over the country, and that has been something that I always vowed, after what happened the last time, that if I ever had a chance to do something about this, I would try to put back together a program that worked like the old Soil Bank and like the CRP is working.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I also am co-chairman of the Sportsmen's Caucus. We are now up to 237 Members, I believe, and this is one of our top priorities. And so we appreciate the subcommittee holding this hearing. CRP is an extremely unique program because I think it is maybe one of the few where we have got basically the farmers, the sportsmen, and the environmentalists all on the same page. As you are probably well aware, that doesn't happen very often, but there is a lot of support all across the board from those groups.
Also I would like to say I associate myself with the remarks of most of you that made it this morning, but to the ranking member, Mr. Stenholm, in terms of worrying about the cost of this, I come from an areaand you may have some similar areas in your districtwhere things really have not worked. And we have got people really up against the wall. And the disaster bill we passed last year helped, the portion of it that went to the multiple year and so forth was helpful. But what I am afraid is going to happen, I think we are going to spend a bunch of money, no matter what happens with this tax bill, and it will probably be declared an emergency like it was last time, and I am not sure we get a whole lot out of that, frankly. From our vantage point up there, where we have had problems year after year, we feel like a lot of this money that is being spent out on these disasters is going to people that really haven't been damaged all that much.
We see this as somewhat of a solution or at least another option for people that are really up against the wall. At least we are getting something back out of it. We are getting some cover crops and some conservation and some wildlife benefits. And I am not sure we are getting a whole lot out of just increasing the transition payments and doing some of those kinds of things like we have done. So not to say that there aren't some downsides to CRP in the local economy as well.
In any event, I have introduced H.R. 408 which would take the CRP back to the original amount that was established back in 1985, which was 45 million acres. And I believe that such a move would return the CRP to the originally intended size and would obviously expand the benefits of the program.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As I said, it has a lot of support, all kinds of groups like Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Isaac Walton League, the NRA, the National Association of Conservation Districts, the Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Society, Trout Unlimited, The Wildlife Management Institute, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and the National Farmers Union both support the full use and authorization of CRP. So you can see we have got a lot of support among some very diverse groups.
In Congress the bill has over 50 cosponsors, and they are from both sides of the aisle. As I said, it is a top priority of the Sportsmen's Caucus, and we think the bill's popularity reflects the several reasons that people support CRP. The wildlife soil and water benefits gained from idling land with 10-year contracts have been tremendous.
And you have already touched on, part of the question is why is it important to increase the total program at this time. Well, essentially, for those of us who are involved in the debate of reauthorizing the CRP and the 1996 farm bill, we are at the program limit. Whether you like it or not, there was a tacit agreement made at that time that a certain amount of this land was going to be set aside for this so-called buffer strip initiative or continuous sign-up or whatever you want to call it. And I don't know how many of you are aware, I think some of you are, of all the controversy and fight that we had between the environmental community and myself and others putting this whole thing together. So I think the Department feels like they have to leave this 4.3 million acre set-aside for all of these different initiatives, the buffer strips, the CREP and so forth.
So as I understand it, I could be corrected if I am wrong, but I think about 750,000 acres have gone in under those various programs, and I have my opinions about that. I think that unless there are some changes made in some of these programs, I am not sure they are ever going to get to 4.3 million acres. I told them that at the time. I think that some of what I said back then is coming to be true, that it is not farmer-friendly enough. There are some things in there that are not realistic. There are ways that I think it could be improved to make it work better.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But if we are going to have an ability to enroll any more CRP, I think the only way it is going to be done is if we raise the cap. And I think that we can get the support of our colleagues to go back up to the original acreage of 45 million. We are not plowing any new ground, if you will, going to that level. I think everybody understands we are going to spend money on agriculture anyway, as in some form or another. We haven't been able to get a score on this, but it is not going to be a huge amount of money each year, whatever the price is and whatever the sign-ups might be. So I think it is a realistic thing that we can accomplish if we just put our mind to it.
And as we talk about enlarging the CRP, also I think we need to focus on some of the criticisms. And you mentioned some of it, each of you in your testimony, but we need to recognize that in some parts of the country this program is controversial amongst producers and landowners. They think it is too complex, they don't think it is flexible enough.
I think to some extent it has some credibility problems in some places because of the way that the USDA uses these weights and scores nationwide and what has happened during some of the sign-ups.
So there are some problems out there with this continuous sign-up, as I said. I think there are some things that could be done to make that whole situation work better. There has been some information put out by the Wildlife Management Institute and a bunch of other agencies that I think you ought to take a look at that would hopefully make that whole situation work better. But I think a couple things that are pretty obvious in my country with these buffer strips if you make them wider, if they could make them wider and make it more land into the situation, I think that it would work better for people. These strips are just not really wide enough and they kind of screw up the situation with a lot of people.
Another thing we have been trying to get them to look at is allowing people to square off fields underneath this program. We think that that would help it to be utilized better. So there are things that I believe could be done and maybe the Department is looking at them and maybe there are reasons why they can't do them. I guess I hope that we can hear that here today.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The other thing that people should be awarethat the CREP is popular with some people, but I want to let you know that there is a lot of opposition out there to the CREP in my area and in other areas of the country because people are not wild about allowing for permanent easements, or long-term putting away of the land has been a controversy in some places. And I think we need to understand that that may be having an effect on why we are not getting land into these different programs. But I think we can work through all of that.
But the main thing is that if we are going to get anymore sign-ups going here, I think we are going to have to increase the cap. I don't think it is realistic to think that we are going to be able to badger the Department into using this 4.3 million acres. And if we take that position, I don't think we are going to be successful.
The other thing that is happening is because we are in such a stressed situation in agriculture, we are seeing people looking at CRP or some other kind of a program for a short-term set-aside to try to deal with the problem. And I don't have any problem with that. I personally think that is maybe not a bad idea, I want to remind everybody that during this debate we tried to get a 5-year component of this current program and were fought by a lot of people.
There are a lot of people that do not want a short-term program, a 3-year, 5-year program, because they do not feel they get enough environmental benefit out of it.
Now, if we are going to use CRP or something like CRP to try to help farmers get through this situation, one of the concerns that I have if we get off on some other tangent of trying to set up a new program or trying to rejigger the CRP, we could end up spinning our wheels for a long time and not get anything done.
One of the things that I think is attractive about passing my bill and increasing the cap is that the program is in place, it works, everybody knows how it operates. It could be implemented in a hurry and we wouldn't have to worry about fighting over rules and fighting over developing the program, which I think is going to be a much bigger deal than people realize.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There are a lothaving gone through what happened in 1996, there is going to be a lot of things come out of the woodwork if somebody tries to start putting ahead some kind of a 3- or 5-year set-aside program. And I just think people need to realize that that is not going to be the easiest thing in the world to put together.
So, obviously, I think the best solution is to adopt my bill as the first thing that we can do if we want to not only increase conservation but also provide some help to farmers out there whose backs are up against the wall.
The last thingI am going to be a little bit parochialI just want to complain a little bit about theseI have got one county up in the northern part of my district that just has been wiped out just about every year, Roseau County, and there are other parts of other counties that are in as bad a shape, but this year they are not going to harvest 90 percent of their crop. And 2 days ago, they were turned down for disaster declaration because it is an agriculture disaster and not a public facilities disaster. And they also tried to put quite a bit of land into the CRP and we gotthe local committee and the State committee authorized them to go above the 25 percent because they hit the cap, but it was turned down here in Washington.
Now, the Department, I think, takes the positionand I guess they are right within the law because this is not highly erodible landthey cannot go above the 25 percent. And I think we need to look at this whole erodibility index which was brought up by Mr. Minge. I think it is too restrictive. It needs to be more flexible. And I am not convinced that 15 is necessarily the magic number. And I think to some extent we are worshipping too much at the altar of this whole EBI and erodibility situation. But in any event, in one county I had 41 percent of the crop land, another county 32 percent, another county 31 percent offered into CRP this last sign-up. And we were denied going above 25 percent. So there was a whole bunch of people that got cut out that are really up against the wall.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So I have introduced a bill that would override this in those three counties and would like to ask support of my colleagues, if you might consider figuring out some way to help me with that so we can try to help those people in those three counties that have been wiped out, basically 7 years out of the last 9.
But this is another example where some of the things that we have in law are not flexible enough and we are not able to help people when maybe we should.
So again, Mr. Chairman, I very much appreciate your calling this hearing today. I am going to try to stay with you and listen to some of the other testimony if that is OK with you. And I look forward to working with you on moving this program forward.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you.
Mr. PETERSON of Minnesota. I would be happy to answer any questions or take any advice.
Mr. BARRETT. Are there questions for Mr. Peterson? Seeing none, thank you. And please join us up here if you will.
I am pleased to introduce the first panel, Mr. Tom Grau,the Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, USDA; and Ms. Glenda Humiston, Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, USDA.
Please proceed, Mr. Grau.
STATEMENT OF THOMAS GRAU, DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY, FARM AND FOREIGN AGRICULTURAL SERVICES, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, ACCOMPANIED BY PARKS SHACKELFORD, ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR FOR PROGRAMS, FARM SERVICE AGENCY; AND GLENDA HUMISTON, DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY FOR NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT
Mr. GRAU. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the subcommittee. I am pleased to appear before you to discuss the Conservation Reserve Program. Mr. Chairman, I will take your message back to the Department that you requested.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, sir.
Mr. GRAU. With me today, as you mentioned, are Glenda Humiston, Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and I have also asked Parks Shackelford, Associate Administrator for Programs, Farm Service Agency to join me at the table.
The committee's last hearing on CRP was just over 2 years ago. Then the local offices of FSA, with technical assistance provided by the Natural Resource Conversation Service, just completed the largest sign-up ever. We accepted over 160,000 offers for 16.8 million acres for sign-up 15. We have certainly been busy, Mr. Chairman, in other areas as well, especially when we provided nearly $5 billion in farm credit, $5.7 billion in production flexibility contract payments, $3.3 billion in LDP and marketing loans, $1.9 billion in Crop Loss Disaster Assistance Program payments, $200 million to livestock producers, the same to dairy producers, $50 million to hog producers, $40 million in payments under NAP, and implemented a new recourse loan for honey and mohair producers.
As busy as we have been, we have also found time to conduct the 5-million-acre 18th sign-up and issue annual CRP payments of $1.3 billion to producers. We expect that by October 1, nearly 32 million acres will be enrolled in CRP. We anticipate the start of the next general sign-up later this winter. Although Secretary Glickman has not yet announced sign-up dates, the sign-up will likely be held a few weeks later than usual so as not to occur during FSA's anticipated heavy workload period when LDP activity is the greatest.
Today the CRP is safeguarding millions of acres of American topsoil from erosion, increasing wildlife habitat, enhancing the Nation's air quality, and protecting ground and surface water by reducing water run-off and sedimentation. Countless lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams are cleaner and more vital in part because of CRP.
The Natural Resource Conversation Service estimates that each acre under CRP contract reduces erosion by an average of 19 tons of top soil a year. New breeding, nesting and brood habitats on CRP lands have helped populations of many bird species to increase. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has documented an increase in wild duck nesting. Populations of over 3 million in the Dakotas and Montana and have also noted increases in the grasshopper sparrow, lark bunny and eastern meadowlark populations.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This is some of the comments, Mr. Peterson, you made earlier that the conservation and wildlife benefits have increased under the CRP. The ring-necked pheasant population in Minnesota, Dakotas and Ohio have also doubled. We have also seen a tripling of the pheasant harvest in Montana and the reappearance of the long-absent prairie chicken in Texas. New feeding, nesting and brood habitats on CRP lands have helped populations of many bird species to increase and thrive. In the western States, notable increases of populations of big game such as elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer and prong horn, also well documented, are due in part to CRP.
In addition to the general sign-up, we have continued to expand the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program which combines resources for USDA with interested State Governments to address local environmental issues of State and national importance. Using CREP provides more flexibility to the additional resources than under the broader general enrollment CRP. Some of these innovative projects have been used by State private leverage dollars to do the following: protect the water supply of 9 million New York City residents, restore the salmon in the Pacific Northwest, maintain water quality in Illinois and Minnesota rivers, restore the habitat of the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and rivers and streams of North Carolina.
USDA economists estimate that under the initial 36.4 million acres of CRP, it will have also helped increase net farm income from $2.1 to $6.3 billion, created future timber resources of 3.3 billion, increased soil productivity from six-tenths of a billion to 1.7 billion, increased service water benefits, enhanced proceeds from the small game hunting reserves. In addition, the U.S. Fish and wildlife Service has estimated the CRP has created wildlife benefits of 1.4 billion for waterfowl.
For the short-term, CRP acreage will quickly approach the enrollment limit, Mr. Chairman and rest of the committee, of 36.4 million acres authorized under the Food Security Act of 1985. If you factor the remaining 4.9 million acres in authority and the 2.3 million acres of contracts that will expire, we have about 7.2 million acres to go. We, of course, will have to make allowances for CRP appeals, continuous sign-up and CREP, so that means only about 2.9 million acres can be enrolled in general sign-ups over the next 3 years. That assumes that the remaining acreage authority is equally divided over the next three sign-ups to just over 1 million acres per sign-up, which is far less than the 27.7 million acres that we have signed up. What a stark difference.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In conclusion, we are concerned that such small enrollments may go so greatlywe are concerned that such small enrollments may so greatly increase competition that producers whose offers are not accepted may become discouraged, lose interest not only in the CRP but in overall conservation efforts. We support raising the CRP authorized enrollment level above the current 36.4 million acre level, and expanded CRP authority would provide enrollment opportunities for many landowners and operators' environmentally sensitive lands who would otherwise be excluded from participating.
I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the committee today. And I will be very happy to respond to any questions. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Grau appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, sir.
First of all, we are all aware of the fact that there are procedures in place to increase the limitation beyond the 25 percent limit that Mr. Peterson mentioned earlier. I have a specific county out in my district, Kimball County specifically, and the County FSA Committee and the Nebraska State FSA Committee, the Nebraska State Executive Director, have asked for an increase in that limitation in Kimball County. That was made in late April. I was made aware of that request on the 24th of May. And I guess perhaps as an addendum to my earlier concern, what is the status of that request or do you know at this point?
Mr. GRAU. Mr. Chairman we can get back to you on the specific status. But, Parks, do you have any additional information where we are at as of this second?
Mr. SHACKELFORD. It is my understanding that that request was recently denied. It was sent back on the 14th of July.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you very much. I appreciate that. With regard to the current state of our agricultural economy, would the USDA support a statutory mandate to retire a fixed number of acres annually under CRP?
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GRAU. Where we are currently at as far as departmental policy, is we support an increase in the amount of CRP acres. We have not come out as to the exact number of acres because we want to make sure, Mr. Chairman, that we take care of the Environmental Benefit Index and make sure that we get the best bounce for the dollars to the taxpayers, as along the same lines, getting the best bounce for the environmental benefit side. So today we have not taken a position on that.
Mr. BARRETT. Would you have any cost estimate for expanding the current CRP acreage to 45 million?
Mr. GRAU. Currently the cost-per-acre average nationwide runs around $45 per acre. It all depends on what offers are made, but todaywe have not run a complete analysisbut where we are at on acre are $45. So if it continues along the same line, you could easily multiply the cost back and forth, but it again depends on the offers that are made.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. My understanding is that the CREP rules do not allow for the rounding or squaring off of acres. Is that correct?
Mr. GRAU. You are probably talking more along the continuous sign-up versus the CREPwe have three programs there you are well aware of.
Mr. BARRETT. Talking about the buffers in the
MR. GRAU. Right. That would be involved, Mr. Chairman, in the continuous sign-up. We have a recent notice that we sent out and basically the reason we sent out a recent notice on putting some limitations in is in some areas there were some folks putting in about 80 percent of fields. And bottom line is, Mr. Chairman, the purpose of it was along the buffers. So we do allow small arena to be squared and rounded but there are some limitations.
I don't know Glenda, if you want to add from the technical side on that, that would be the notice to 338.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. HUMISTON. Well, all I would say right now is as far as practices go, we are reviewing a number of ways to make both the continuous CRP as well as CREP more effective and attractive to producers. No decisions have been made yet on practices that would be added to the present list for automatic enrollment. And we have got a variety of technical teams working very closely with our Agricultural Research Service, our Land Grant University System, et cetera, to constantly try to make sure that the practices are appropriate and get the scientific as well as other buy-in to those practices. We are looking at the squaring off and rounding. But there are other issues that come up. It is a very site-specific issue, too.
Mr. GRAU. Just in addition, I would like to add, Mr. Chairman, in our Notice 338 we reviewed the contour grass strip practice standards and requirements and I guess the key isand I will give you a specific example: that based on average soils, for example in Kansas, the cost of reducing soil erosion with a properly designed terrace system is 62 cents per acre; it jumps up significantly, almost 25 bucks per ton, if we jump higher. And the key is we have to make sure we get the best bounce and don't get 80 percent of a field in. We are working real close with the technical folks on this, but there has been some concern.
Mr. BARRETT. Has this been, in your opinion, perhaps an impediment into getting more acres into the program or not?
Mr. GRAU. No. The squaring and rounding we are working through, but I think there are three arenas where, Mr. Chairman, where we possibly can get more acres into the program, and that is one. In the economic arena, when you get these small strips out there, if you pay a little bit more because it takes the producers a little bit more, it could make a difference.
The second area is we are going with more of an educational outreach. For example, when I was in the State of Iowa, we worked with our friends and neighbors in all the environmental community and created partnerships.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And the third area that we are working through right now is just to make our procedure simpler. I think those are the three areas that will help in the increased enrollment.
Mr. BARRETT. This can all be done on a regulatory basis. You don't need any statutory authority of any kind.
Mr. GRAU. Those three areas right there are working together with NRCS on a regulatory basis.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. My time has expired. Mr. Minge.
Mr. MINGE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The first question I would like to ask has to do a with a shorter-term program. Would there be any problem with integrating within the current CRP a 3- to 5-year option that farmers could participate in and landowners could participate in so that we would not have to create a separate program?
Mr. GRAU. We feelyou are talking specifically about a shorter term, 3 to 5, so I paraphrased your question; is that correct?
Mr. MINGE. That is correct.
Mr. GRAU. We feel it is probably a separate issue if we go to a shorter term if we are going to allow some additional acres. I know the Secretary has talked about it earlier in some previous statements. The most important thing that I think NRCS and Glenda and I would agree with is we have to make sure that the CRP which has been so successful continues with the success, combining the environmental benefits along with all the other benefits that American taxpayers receive. The 3 to 5, there might be some opportunity to go in and create a new program whereby we could take care of such things such as scab and other diseases, some of those other arenas. And that is being just looked at today. So we are talking about them more in a separate arena versus a combination of the CRP.
Mr. MINGE. Well, one thing we would like to see is a program that can be quickly implemented without a long time frame for the drafting of regulations and implementation. I think there is some concern and some frustration that if a newly named program is set up, that it would have that long lead time and it would not meet some of the needs that are out there.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC A second thing I would like to raise has to do with CREP. And there are several States now where there are CREP programs in place. I looked at the chart, the exhibit to your testimony; and have the enrollments been proceeding sort of as expected or has this turned out to be much more difficult to have the land enrollment levels that you had anticipated?
Mr. GRAU. Well, first of all, as we are all aware of within the room today, CREP fosters partnerships between the Federal Government, States and private organizations. Just to reiterate, as has been stated earlier, there has been some real successes. For example, in Maryland enrollment in filler strips and riparian areas have increased over 1,000 percent. Acre wise, we have got a ways to go. But this is new to the Maryland and the Chesapeake area.
In additionand I will just use that as an examplein addition, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, and other private organizations have partnered with USDA to provide an additional 6 million.
Now to get to the heart of your question, this is a program that has really helped create partnerships. And it takes a while for these partnerships to develop. But we feel it is walking and I think it is going to get to the trotting and running stage because success breeds success and we are starting to see this happen. There is room for improvement, yes, but it is starting to move forward in a lot of nontraditional areas.
Mr. MINGE. Another topic that has come up has to do with the payments that are being offered with respect to continuous sign-up and CREP. And there have been suggestions that there be a bonus if all landowners in a watershedlet's say there is a discreet smaller watershed that we are trying to improve water quality and habitat and so on, and if we can obtain a higher level of participation in that watershed, to provide some sort of incentive to achieve that higher level of participation, is that something that you see that you could accommodate within the Department?
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And similarly, we have a concern that there be an incentive to use practices that are environmentally friendly and provide a bonus and perhaps cost-sharing arrangements which would make it possible for landowners to implement those practicesjust for example, fencing and things such as that that can be fairly expensivewon't you have a riparian area that is fairly narrow and the fencing cost is fairly significant given the small amount of acres that are involved?
I see that the yellow light is on, so maybe I will just not make that so much a question as a statement that we urge that you do that and would like to see that implemented.
And the last thing I would like to make sure that I mention is that I have a real concern about the staffing levels at FSA and at NRCS. And you alluded to the fact that you are delaying for a few weeks the sign-up here this fall so that it is integrated better with the LDP and the loan programs. And it is troublesome in my mind that we have a program that is popular like CRP, we have programs that are necessary like LDP and like the Marketing Loan Program, and we have a limited staff, and if we have a disaster that comes along, it really upsets the ability of the staff, as I understand it or I as I see it, to accomplish everything that is expected of them.
And I would like to see the Department let us know on a regular basis, and I would request that you do that, what your staffing problems are at this point, given the budget constraints that you are trying to live under and the goals and objectives that all of us have for CRP and other programs that I think are important not just to rural America but to our entire society.
Mr. GRAU. Thank you. I would like to respond briefly if I may, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BARRETT. Certainly.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GRAU. First of all, I will take them in the order that you stated them. Number one, the recommendation that you made as far as new and creative ways for CREP and CRP, we agree that we need to go ahead and develop new and creative ways to make sure that we get more acres in. So we will look into your suggestion. We are working with Oregon on a similar type situation right now.
Second of all, concerning the fencings, one of the things that we are up against is a 50-percent statutory authority as far as cost share. So we all need to be aware of that. But we will work real close with Congress on that issue.
The third area that you brought up concerning the staffing levelsand Glenda and I agree that our men and women who do such a tremendous job across the country are under tremendous pressure and stress. We appreciate any help and support. We will keep you informed.
On the fourth point and last point I have, on the conservation sign-up being a few weeks later, it is not implemented as far as the regular sign-up until the first of the following year, so it won't slow down the acres actually entering into the program, plus conservation plans have to be made out. We will make sure we will be ready to go just as we were this year. Correct, Glenda?
Ms. HUMISTON. Absolutely.
Mr. MINGE. We do have some witnesses that are on the panel that may well be discussing things that I think are important for CRP and other programs. I would like to ask, do you have anybody that will be staying to take in the testimony that follows after your testimony is completed?
Mr. GRAU. Absolutely.
Mr. MINGE. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Minge. Mr. Moran.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MORAN. Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity of attending this hearing. A couple of specific things. Last year, the week prior to the commencement of pheasant season in the State of Kansas, the Department announced that there would be no commercial hunting allowed on CRP acres in our State, and I guess elsewhere.
My understandingthis probably involves Mr. Shackelfordthat there was at least a year's delay on implementation of that, in part because the Department realized that probably a week before the opening day of pheasant season was not the time to make such a pronouncement. But is that issue behind us or do we expect to have a continual issue about whether or not commercial hunting can occur on CRP acres?
Mr. GRAU. I will make a brief comment. Since you brought up Mr. Shackelford's name, I will let him go ahead and let you know exactly where we are at as of this second today. First of all, the reason it was being looked at was not to take anything away from what was going on out there that was consistent with environmental and also habitat concerns. The purpose of the amendment was to take care of some crisis situation.
Enough said. I will turn it over to Parks,and then, Parks, go ahead and tell us where we are at as of this moment.
Mr. SHACKELFORD. First of all, I want to clarify one thing because this really wasn't a hunting issue, it is a commercial shooting preserve issue. I will read you from the notice. As an avid hunter, I feel very strongly about this: ''CRP participants may lease hunting rights, charge fees to access to hunters, or conduct other similar hunting operations on CRP acreage if the activity occurs during the normal hunting season for the pursuit of game that is normal to the area.''
So it is not a hunting issue, it is a commercial business operation and the release of birds or other game on the land.
Now, with that being said, there have been a lot of discussions here, we expect to have it resolved in the near future. We agreed, we met with the industry, we agreed to go back and meet again with the industry before we publish the newwell, it is not really regulations, but the new procedure to make sure that they are comfortable with what we can and cannot do.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There are several issues here. One, I think we have to ensure we are really looking at the preservation of what the public is paying for in terms of wildlife benefits, which are a major reason that much of this land was enrolled. We are going to have to look to make sure that if cover is manipulated, it is done in a manner that is consistent with improving wildlife habitat and not just as a matter of convenience which ends up being very negative to wildlife habitat.
We are going to have to ensure that it is not our business to get into the activities if they are regulated by the State Fish and Game Departments. They will have to make those determinations.
There is the issue which is a broader issue of commercial use of CRP. In the past, people have generally been prohibited from earning a profit off of land where the Government or the people are paying the rent. There is the concern that some businesses are paying for their land costs, others are not. We are probably not going to get into that issue.
I think the numbers of letters we have received from members of this committee and others have made clear that you would intend that this activity be allowed but it will probably raise other issues, such as in the Southeast with pine straw, some of the other things, and are we going to make a fundamental change in the program in the commercial use.
But to sum it up, we do hope to work out and have policy in effect that will probably allow the operation of most of these businesses to continue. But they are going to have to be done in a manner that is consistent with the goals of CRP as laid out in the statue.
Mr. GRAU. Does that clarify the issue for today?
Mr. MORAN. It speaks to the issues as of today. I assume some clarity will be forthcoming in the near future so I can determine whether or not we have a problem or we don't have a problem. And I appreciate any answer sooner rather than later.
Second, let me again complain, criticize the decision in regard to CRP notice, FSA Notice 338, the continuous sign-up on the grass strips on terraces. I think that remains a valid, important use of the CRP acres. The ability to stabilize those terraces through long-term planting of grasses is important.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And, Mr. Chairman, for the record, my time is about to expire. I would like to place in the record a letter to Mr. Shackelford of April 12, earlier this year, from Wildlife Conservation as well as the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and other agricultural interests in regard to this issue, which I think is an important one, and I am going to try to work on a number of issues in regard to CRP over the next few months that make the program more farmer and consumer friendly, and with your permission I would seek that opportunity.
Mr. BARRETT. Without objection.
[The information appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. GRAU. We will work on seeking a compromise to take care of the concerns along with the cost factors.
Mr. BARRETT. Mrs. Clayton.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for having the hearing.
Let me understand the relationship. Mr. Grau, you are the Deputy Under Secretary of the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services.
Mr. GRAU. I am the Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And National Resources is the other arm in terms of implementation?
Ms. HUMISTON. Yes, although in a different mission area.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Because yours is conservation and natural resources, you have the environmental standards that you must adhere to?
Ms. HUMISTON. We provide technical assistance to the landowners who desire to participate in CRP as well as CREP, and then we also work very closely in partnership with our science and research entities of USDA to constantly make sure that our technical standards are appropriate as we get more and more information in.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. I am assuming that you work together up here. I know back home sometimes that works well and sometimes it doesn't. You have to have the will to do it. Structurally, are there areas where you think that this could work better, where farmers could get more information about how to sign-up?
Mr. GRAU. First of all, we appreciate your comment on working together up here. We do work very close as a team in Washington, DC. We also encourage it at our State and county offices.
As far as a couple of points on how we could increase the producer participation in our working relationship, some we are already doing and there is always room for improvement. A lot of places we are sending out joint newsletters. A lot of places we are encouraging that there are informational meetings, whereby both of our mission areas are working side by side.
In our service center concepts, we are sitting there trying to get the minimum of barriers, where all employees help each other during the workload peaks and also whenever. So we have come a long ways to go ahead and fulfill what Congress wants us to fulfill.
Glenda, please add.
Ms. HUMISTON. Both agencies have a strong interest in improving in folks' in the fields ability to access our programs and interact with them electronically.
As the committee is well aware, the common computer environment and a host of software interfaces are being developed and implemented as quickly as we can within the funding available. We have been sidetracked as we have worked this year in particular to make sure that we are Y2K compliant. That promises a great future for farmers to interact with the Department, and we are working very closely on that.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Would you comment on the technical matter in terms of giving farmers the understanding of what the criteria is in the selection of land? Who determines that? The Farm Service recruits the producer, you and the Farm Service agent explain the technical requirements to make sure these are worthy lands under the CREP if they meet the environmental standards? How does that work?
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. HUMISTON. I will do my best to give you an overview, although I daresay each State and county has slight variations as they interact with the crop, the office and the land type. But in general, both agenciesas well as, I would say, Extension and other portions of USDA, are constantly urging landowners, farmers and others to be aware of our programs and to participate in an appropriate manner. We have outreach constantly.
When a landowner is interested, they do requestand I may use the word wrong herethey do request to participate in, say, CRP or CREP or whatever the program is. We then would have a technical expert interact with that landowner out on their land and look at what is the possibilities, the determination of that.
That information would come back at the local level to both the conservation district for the technical quality of the conservation plan, as well as to the FSA county committee which looks at more the economics and financial portions of it.
Both agencies work together, though, in putting together the information that is used at a State and Federal level to try to allocate the finite resources. And they use a series of criteria, the Environmental Benefits Index as well as others, like the 25 percent cap on acreage in a county and a whole host of other stuff.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And the final decision is made on FSA based on the input of natural resources?
Mr. GRAU. The final decision is based on the Environmental Benefit Index and how it ranks in the full criteria nationwide as far as the selection.
I can truthfully say, because I know being a former CRP participant and watching my father
Mrs. CLAYTON. My time is up. Let me ask another question.
I am interested in what the costs would be if you made an estimation moving from the 36 million acres to the 45 million acres, and I heard you say that it averages out to about $45 per acre. That is $45 million additionally if Mr. Peterson's bill is enacted, and I want to know what the current cost is.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GRAU. Again, I understand the concern, Mr. Chairman. But on page 15 of the testimony, we did break it out and we will make sure that we work with you so all of you have the opportunity to have some time to spend and study that chart.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mrs. Clayton.
Mr. HAYES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
This has been something that has come up over and over again as we have had field hearings in North Carolina's eighth district, and Mrs. Clayton's district is a little bit flatter than mine, we have many of the same kinds of agricultural opportunities and challenges.
I have been involved in conservation through farming and hunting and fishing and as I have talked to my farmers, I've said let's take CRP which is a great idea and has done many wonderful things across the country, and aggressively farm for habitat enhancement, protection, cover crops, game and nongame species, watershed preservation, not just a kind of set-aside which we have done in the past, but aggressively manage using biotech, warm season grasses, cover crops, feed plots.
What discussion have you all had among yourself regarding stepping up the whole CRP idea and manage more aggressively for those kinds of thing, Mr. Shackelford, Mr. Grau?
Mr. GRAU. We agree with you, and here are the following and what we have in procedure.
Mr. SHACKELFORD. I think the key point when we came up with the new rounds of sign-ups under the 1996 farm bill, we made wildlife habitat coequal as is in the statute with soil and water quality. We have seen significant increases in plantings of higher quality cover, improvements in cover. In your area, for example, the changes in reenrolling. One of the criticisms of the program was the pine tree enrollments, and we have a lot of people going in, thinning out, creating areas for wildlife that will significantly increase the wildlife benefits of that acreage.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, we have participated for several years now in a working group at the State level and in the Southeast between wildlife and forestry people to come up with as manysometimes those interests are not exactly the same and we have managed to develop a number of proposals there to improve the wildlife habitat benefits of the program and, in addition, maybe a little south of you the designation of long leaf pine conservation priority area was a national initiative to also improve that quality. So we share your concerns.
One of the things is trying to get the landowners to be interested, and we appreciate anything you can do to help us.
Mr. HAYES. We were talking about the terrible plight of the farmer, and things we can do in Congress to help them, and the Payment in Kind Program came up. They are in more trouble. We said let's do payment in cash, not in kind, something to help with production and aggressively address issues that folks in the city, as well as hunters and others enjoy.
In North Carolina we have many assets. We have the PD National Wildlife Refuge and they are doing some innovative things with some of these crops that I have talked about. We also have the Uwharrie National Forest and the Uwharrie Mountain State Park, they join together, and it has been an incredible blending of mind, assets, resources and ideas to come up with things that are great for hunters. But also because of the location near major metropolitan areas, there are some incredible opportunities for school children and others who want to come, see ducks, geese, woodpeckers as well, and it is really working well.
I would appreciate, Parks, or anyone else, if you would come to me and see if there is something that we can add to the mix, because I think this is a great opportunity to give additional assets and resources to our farmers, but also to enhance the whole idea for land management for all folks. I look forward to sharing some more of those ideas with you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GRAU. And we will work with you.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Phelps.
Mr. PHELPS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just a couple of quick comments and maybe a question or two.
First of all, I am extremely concerned also about the staffing levels both at FSA and ASCS. My district in central and southern Illinois seems to be at a low when there is a higher demand for assistance, and so I hope that we can improve those numbers, and I know that it depends on us and what we pass here, but we need your guidance to balance the areas on which we serve.
One of the things I am trying to learn here as a new Member, it appears that the Department is sort ofI guess sets up criteria or standards that youhow you judge to select those set-asides in a program. Is there one standard that has a higher priority than others? Would it be land management or protecting ground surface water, wildlife habitat? Top soil? You mentioned all of those in your comments.
Mr. GRAU. We have specific standard that producers are aware of with a point system. And, Parks, walk through the standards.
Mr. SHACKELFORD. We have an Environmental Benefit Index which has grown to be a fairly complicated thing but does a good job of looking at the benefits of enrolling the land. The three primary goals are erosion reduction, water quality, and wildlife habitat. We also look at its location within a conservation priority area. We look at air quality and the likelihood for longer-term protection beyond the term. For example, if a producer plants hardwood trees, we are likely to get protection beyond the 10 to 15 years of the CRP contract. We look at all of those benefits to determine on a national basis the acreage that best meets the public's needs and the amount that they are paying to get the best environmental benefit.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. PHELPS. So the number of acres that you have specified would embrace that combination, or is there one particular standard that reaches out?
Mr. SHACKELFORD. The three highest ranked are the statutory goals, that are coequal, of erosion, water quality and wildlife habitat.
Mr. PHELPS. We have a lot of activity, people offering legislation that may or may not coincide with what the goals of the agency might be or our administration. Do any part of the quality consideration or standards have to do with supply control?
Mr. GRAU. The CRP flipped from the original intent when it was passed quite a few years ago, until the recent farm bill, and based on the farm bill the supply side was taken out and the standards that Parks talked about were put in, and I think this is the best balance with the farmers' concerns and the taxpayers' concerns today.
Mr. PHELPS. Is there a certain level at which supply control could be considered that has negative or positive impact on the international economic scene and trade?
Mr. GRAU. The key on that is we are all aware the CRP is one that is considered in the green box in the international side, and I guess those are some of the things that we would have to potentially look at. That is why I said earlier in my comments if we start looking at another program that does not meet all of the benefits, then we maybe better look at a side program versus this one, and I understand the concerns brought up earlier.
Mr. PHELPS. You have more requests than you can reach, but those that are not granted permission in the program, are they revisited the next round to say you didn't get this time considered, or are they just pretty much out of the standard that you listed and can never be hoped for?
Mr. GRAU. No, we are encouraging a revisit. The technical people spend some time on how to increase the EBI.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. HUMISTON. Exactly. I think it is important for the committee to know when folks come in and request a conservation plan and technical assistance, we look at the wide array of programs that USDA offers that they might participate in. CRP is very important, as is WRP, EQIP, et cetera.
It is worth noting that we provide technical assistance and conservation plans to literally tens of thousands of private landowners who often implement good conservation whether or not they are participating in a program. Our private landowners want to be good stewards of their land and so I think that is an important point. A lot of people, even if they don't participate in CRP, often implement the good conservation practices on their own.
Mr. PHELPS. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. The gentleman from South Dakota, Mr. Thune.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate this hearing this morning. I think this is an issue which has an important bearing on a lot of the discussions that we are having about how best to support agriculture and make sure that our independent producers can continue to make a living on the farm, and I think this is an issue which over the years at least in my State has been a heavily utilized program and has had a number of very advantageous benefits, not only to the farm economy at the producer level but also in terms of wildlife and other things, erosion control. We have a lot of highly erodible land in South Dakota.
But just a couple questions today. I was reviewing the crop land survey, cash rent survey as prepared by South Dakota Department of Agricultural Statistics Service, and comparing that with the 18th CRP sign-up and, virtually without exception, there are generally fairly large disparities in CRP rental rates when you compare them with cash rent in a given county. And I am curious, what efforts are taken by USDA to ensure that the rental rates are in line with the cash rents?
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GRAU. We are real fortunate that we have our county committee system, and the local folks actually set the rates, send them on up to the State and they are reviewed by the State committee, and then on to Washington.
Mr. SHACKELFORD. I would say that it is based on the actual cash rent, the dry land cash rental rate for comparable land in the county. That goes to the full review process, NRCS, local industry, everybody contributes to that.
Given that we were several years into the program, last year we conducted a full review of the rental rates and we are not aware that there is a concern that they are out of line. Producers have the option to lower the rate that they are willing to accept to increase the chances of their land being accepted, but we think that we are very comfortable that we are meeting cash rental rates.
Mr. GRAU. The process is in place to correct it at the local level if we are off.
Mr. THUNE. And I know that there are efforts, and improvements have been made. When the program started 10 years ago, there were a lot of disparities in the way that it worked.
There is widespread concern among producers in EBI, Environmental Benefits Index, specifically with respect to the structure that encourages producers to agree to establishing new cover at great expense both to them and the taxpayer. I am curious as to the reason for encouraging producers to destroy essentially one-half of a healthy stand of grass only to replace it with a variety of expensive grasses. Doesn't that simply destroy what has been some very good cover and habitat for wildlife and expose the land to additional erosion?
Mr. GRAU. There is a definite reason for that, and that is there is a difference in cover which protects wildlife differently. From the technical side, Glenda or Parks, do you want to cover it?
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SHACKELFORD. I will speak first, because we had to go through the process in implementing the 1996 bill.
When the CRP first was created in the 1985 farm bill, there was a goal to get land out of production as quickly as possible. It was a conservation program but with a very strong supply control component. The land was taken out of production, we immediately planted covers which did a good job of protecting erosion, but over the years the wildlife benefits for those sharply decreased in the outyears of the contract.
In planning to implement this program, Congress placed a much higher emphasis on wildlife habitat and working with the Fish and Wildlife Service, State and private organizations, one of the concerns was that we upgrade that cover because in contracts like this, we would be looking at a 20-year period that that land was under contract.
Yes, in the first year when you destroy the monocultures covers that are out there, you do lose some benefit. However, the benefit over the outyears over the 10-year contracts are much greatly increased by putting in a mix of native covers rather than single stands of introduced grasses.
Ms. HUMISTON. I don't believe I could have done that better.
Mr. SHACKELFORD. I have had to do it a number of times.
Mr. THUNE. I am sure that you have empirical data to support all that, but it just seems like the introduction of more expensive varieties of grasses in areas where the current programthis is my experiencespeaking in terms of the wildlife protection that we have witnessed in South Dakota as well as the erosion control, that the existing program was working very well.
But if I might ask one other question, there is this program, the continuous program which is right nowI think you have enrolled, and correct me if I'm wrong, about 900,000 acres which really is only about 300,000 a year. I am on Mr. Peterson's bill to increase the cap, the available acreage under the CRP, but as it stands right now at the rate that you are enrolling in the continuous program, it is going to take a decade to get 4 or 5 million, which is the goal, enrolled in that program, and those are all acres that could be enrolled, or those are available acres that could be used for the more traditional CRP. When do you expect this continuous program to take off? And if not, might we look at ways in which we could use the available allotment there for other CRP acreage?
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GRAU. First, to answer your question when it might take off, it has taken off in various States in various ways. Some States have a lot of acres enrolled. First we have to improve it, as I mentioned earlier, improve it through education and economic.
Second of all, I don't think we want to take something that reallyand, Glenda, you need to cover the rivers and streams side, which has an opportunity and setback which is just getting its feet on the ground, and we support Congressman Peterson's increase in acres.
Ms. HUMISTON. Particularly the CREP States that are particularly focusing on the riparian areas. It may be that we started off slow because perhaps we were extremely ambitious. For example, let me use Washington and Oregon as an example. As many of you may know, they have a great deal of concern out there in riparian areas for habitat issues related to the salmon which have been listed as threatened or endangered in different stream reaches. We as part of those agreements reached out to Fish and Wildlife entities in the National Fishery Service and EPA, and asked them to be able to work with us to give some assurances to landowners that when they participated in the program and helped create habitat, that they would not later be penalized for having done such a good job of creating that valuable habitat, and that has taken a year or so of negotiations.
But I am pleased to say that we have agreements out in those States as well as surrounding States that are signed or near signing right now, and it did slow down the initial participation. But given that type of assurance to create a win/win for the habitat, the wildlife as well as the landowner, I expect we may see an explosion of interest here very shortly.
Mr. THUNE. If that doesn't occur, it seems we have a significant number in terms of allotment that could be available under the cap, the existing cap. But again hopefully, we will see Mr. Peterson's bill move forward. I thank the panel for your answers and, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your indulgence.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. You are welcome. Mr. Pomeroy.
Mr. POMEROY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding this hearing. I think it is particularly timely as we evaluate what the appropriate congressional response ought to be to this agricultural disaster that swept the country. As we marked up the crop insurance bill, there was discussion whether this was just another production support tool at a time when we have stocks that are overflowing and the prospect of suppressed prices for a goodly amount of time.
We will be, I think, most inclined to apply tools that we are familiar with, tools that have a proven track record as we fashion the disaster response measure, and certainly the Conservation Reserve Program is one that we are very familiar with and it has worked in many respects very, very successfully.
What do you think of the potential of expanding CRP as an appropriate way to idle acreage and positively impact stocks in the future?
And, second, can you achieve a reasonable blend of conservation and wildlife impacts with a shorter lease period, particularly in the 3- to 5-year range? I would be interested across the panel on that question.
Mr. GRAU. Let me go ahead and cover the second part as far as 3 to 5 years. In certain regions of the country, formerly productive farm acreages sustained losses due to disease problems and also due to such things as wheat scab, which is disease. In the case of disaster, leaving land idle, there might be a chance to protect some land, but I think we have to make sure that we do not take the excellent benefits of the full conservation plan and blend them and do not take advantage of what you want to take advantage of, and that is to make sure that we get the best balance for the buck and protect the land and soil and resources.
Mr. POMEROY. And the farmer.
Mr. GRAU. And the farmer on the rural route roads of America. And we all recognize the farm crisis with these low prices today.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So we need to make sure that we keep the long-term goals and if there are some other things that we can implement, we need to work together. The Secretary has stated that we need the short-term emergency package and at the same time we need the longer term on the direction that we are goingand I think we can work together to accomplish what we want to accomplish. I don't think that we can go any further, but there are concerns, I know, from NRCS on the difference of the two. Glenda, do you want to address that?
Ms. HUMISTON. What I would add to that is as we look at a 3-to 5-year program, there are some very obvious uses for such an entity, but I do believe that it would be a huge mistake to blend it in with CRP inappropriately.
One of the most valuable things about CRP is the credibility it has built up with the environmental community and the partnerships there on behalf of American farmers as stewards of their lands and providing some of the benefits that the public definitely desires.
And we have talked a lot about wildlife, but we should be talking about water quality as well, and that has not been mentioned much. We are looking at a 3- to 5-year program, and as all of these efforts move forward, I think the reason that we are seeing so much interest as well as expansion of CRP is the recognition that it is a way to get some very excellent conservation work on the land as well as provide some economic input to portions of rural America.
Mr. POMEROY. You are looking at 3-year period where it is difficult to see you will be able to raise a crop and even recover costs of that activity when you sell it. If you have a shorter period, a bridge period to get through it, it would be extremely attractive to many.
Ms. HUMISTON. And it is important to invest where we can in conservation program rather than the more traditional direct subsidies when we move into world trade.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. POMEROY. Where you can get a ''two for.'' if I can distill your answer, you are more comfortable and conceptually don't have difficulties with the 3 to 5 as an add-on to CRP, but not necessarily taking the CRP lease period and shortening it. Is that a correct synopsis?
Mr. GRAU. Yes.
Ms. HUMISTON. Yes. I might use the word ''separate'' rather than add-on.
Mr. GRAU. I was debating that one word, but the answer is yes.
Ms. HUMISTON. And there definitely are some places that can be used for a great deal of benefit.
Mr. POMEROY. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. I would like to recognize once again Mrs. Clayton.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I think I understood the value of the 3 to 5 years being of a different value, not integrating in this program for a variety of reasons, it would weaken the credibility, it would alsoin my judgment the 3 to 5 years obviously may be used more as a supply control rather than a long-term taking out of production idle land. And so if you began to tweak that too much, there is the possibility of taking too much land out of production during the downtime. And I understand our need to assist the farmers and I think we may want to consider 3 to 5 years when we can achieve economical and environmental purposes. But to begin to see this as a quick fix for the supply side, I am not sure if that doesn't weaken not only international, but it also begins to find that to be a more permanent scenario rather than an immediate response. It has implication for productivity and efficiency for our farmers in the country. It has implication for our trade and our ability to compete internationally. I think for a variety of reasons, they need to be separate. But I also think that we need to be sure that there is a balance as we move in those areas.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GRAU. We need to walk the fine line, but by doing that I think we can accomplish some additional add-ons: disease, biomass production. And if we continue to think of long-term solutions, we will be able to get through this together.
Ms. HUMISTON. Again, although there would obviously be some effect on supply by any type ofprogram that tied up the land for other uses, there are a host of environmental benefits that could be achieved. Tom just mentioned a couple. There may be portions of the Nation where certain acreages could have an extremely high value for things like groundwater recharge. Portions dealing with diseases where the soil needs to lie fallow for some years. Flooding, certain types of short-term flooding. It is going to vary, but there are environmental benefits that can be gained. It would not be strictly a land set-aside program.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Hill, any questions?
Mr. HILL. No, thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Peterson.
Mr. PETERSON of Minnesota. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the time.
Following up on this line of questioning a little bit, one of my interests in this is getting some help to farmers as quick as we can and having gone through this, I agree with you; if we are go to have a short-term program, it is going to have to be separate from CRP or it is just going to get bogged down.
I think that people need to be realistic that even if we try to establish a separate program, it is going to be complicated and there is going to be a big fight. If you want to get some help out to farmers the quickest, you take the cap off the CRP because it is there, it is ready to go, it is developed, and we know what we have got. And so I just want to reiterate that again.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I guess one of my questions is if we pass this bill, do you have any idea how much we would be able to enroll in it in the next sign-up as opposed to if we don't pass it?
Mr. GRAU. If we don't pass it, you won't get very many acres in the next sign-up. At USDA we support an increase in acres in CRP. So I guessthat is the direct answer to your question. It would be a lot less.
Mr. SHACKELFORD. I think the key thing that we need to remember, it is a voluntary program and much depends on the acreage that is offered by landowners. We are often criticized by some groups for not enrolling certain types of lands. Over a 13-year period, those producers have not offered that land for enrollment.
Mr. PETERSON of Minnesota. With the pressure that is on today, I think there is a lot of land that meets the EBI. The answer is that we don't know, but it would be substantially more. This information that I got back from CBO that I have been reading about that they say that they cannot score it or that it is going to cost more money because the EBI scores are lower or higher, do you know what that is about?
Mr. GRAU. I don't.
Mr. PETERSON of Minnesota. I have read some stuff from CBO that they are claiming if we try to put more land in, we are going to lower the EBI scores in order to accomplish that, and it is going to increase the cost. It is a convoluted deal. I will send it over to you.
Mr. GRAU. Send it over and we will check into it.
Mr. PETERSON of Minnesota. In terms of trying of make your continuous sign-up work better, have you looked at widening the buffer zones or widening the strips from 150 feet and have you looked at the idea of letting them square off fields? Is that under consideration?
Ms. HUMISTON. We did look at that and actually the 150 feet is an option. The practice varies according to the riparian area, the slope, the soil. We are also looking at a host of other ways to make the program attractive. In portions of the western States in particular where the land there evolved with grazing pressures, we have noticed that some people have a great deal of concern that if we completely remove all grazing of these riparian areas, that there is concern about invasive plant species moving in, as well as fuel load issues. So we are looking at ways to deal with that, which might encourage people to have a slightly wider strip if we can figure out that practice and deal with the authorities issue.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SHACKELFORD. It would take a statutory change to do that.
Ms. HUMISTON. That is correct.
One other thing to your earlier question, as we pursue the expansion of CRP, it will be important also to recognize the need for appropriate availability of technical assistance to make the program work. We have got a very, very preliminary rough estimate that the 45 million acres proposed would cost roughly $59 million in technical assistance. And under the current section 11 cap situation, that is going to be a difficult thing to deal with. Yet at the same time, it is going to be difficult to shift folks to this from other programs.
Those of you in States with, say, animal feeding operations, recognize that we have about one-tenth the staff currently needed to deliver on those comprehensive management plans that are desired in every program, and this is true for FSA and NRCS; and if RD field office partners were up here, they could tell you the same thing. So that will have to be a consideration.
Mr. PETERSON of Minnesota. A lot of you, I think your producers are under stress and I am sure that you are getting a lot of pressure from them, but you haven't seen anything yet until you see them with 6 or 7 years with no crops. And just so people can get some understanding of where some people are coming from, this whole idea that we are going to use a 3- or 5-year for supply management, is really unrealistic given the fact that we are in this GATT regime and WTO.
If we were under the old farm programs, it might make sense, but for some of the people in the audience and others listening, I have got people now talkingwe grow wheat, and we don't have a lot of alternatives. Sixty percent of our wheat is exported. And they have been big supporters of trying to export more, and now I have wheat growers saying maybe we should not be growing this because we are losing money on it. The only people making money are the people that are shipping it and storing it and selling it. And the producers are losing every year and they are told that they are going to lose another 3 years.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That is why if you take these caps off, they will go big time into this program because they don't see how they are going to survive this. The one thing that we can see where we are under more pressure than any other place in the country, if you can open this up and fix this 25 percent situation, it is a solution. It is not the best solution, but it is available right now.
Again, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your having this hearing and I hope that this will help move us forward to get something done with these caps.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you very much.
Mr. MINGE. I have just one quick question. I have worked with the Department in previous sections on legislation that would allow land that has been reinvested in Minnesota to go into the CRP, and the reason that it takes special legislation, under the current law it is not considered to have been under production for the requisite period of years because it has been in a set-aside program and the set-aside program does not have a 100 percent congruity with the CRP. I would like the assurance that I can work with the Department and fix whatever objections you had to the legislation previously and have it considered again in this Congress. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. And I want to thank the panel for sharing with us this morning. We appreciate it very, very much. Thank you.
We invite now the third and final panel to come to the table. We have Mr. Ronald Harnack, executive director, Board of Water and Soil Resources, the State of Minnesota; Mr. J. Read Smith, first vice-president, National Association of Conservation Districts; Mr. Max Peterson, executive vice-president, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies;
We have Mr. David Nomsen, vice-president of governmental affairs, Pheasants Forever, Inc.; and Mr. David Stawick, president, National Conservation Buffer Council; and Mr. Peterson is accompanied by Mr. Bill Baxter, an agricultural program manager and old friend from Nebraska's Game and Parks Commission.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Harnack.
STATEMENT OF RONALD HARNACK, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BOARD OF WATER AND SOIL RESOURCES, STATE OF MINNESOTA
Mr. HARNACK. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, my name is Ron Harnack, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, and it is my pleasure to address this committee on the Conservation Reserve Program. It is one of the Nation's most successful conservation programs, benefiting soil, water, wildlife and providing financial incentives to America's farmers and ranchers. It establishes a win/win program for all. Minnesota has a unique interest in the CRP and its future, as we are a significant participant, having about 1.2 million acres enrolled, and we are an active participant in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
I would like to make a few brief remarks regarding four particular areas: one, the Environmental Benefits Index, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, the concept of a shorter-term, 3- to 5-year set-aside, and then what are some opportunities for enhanced cooperation or partnerships.
First, the EBI. I believe this index is a significant improvement over the historic targeting for CRP. It significantly increases the program's benefits and the costs per acre enrolled. In addition to the soil conservation benefits, EBI benefits surface and groundwater, upland and stream habitats, and acknowledging state and local water priorities which I think are really unique.
The EBI has posed some problems of eligibility in areas with high value crop lands. However, recent changes to the EBI scoring criteria has lessened this concern and the efforts of USDA and the States and the conservation interests to educate farmers on how they can utilize the EBI has been beneficial in addressing some of those.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We feel that the EBI should be continued. We do feel that there should be some additional flexibility in the EBI to address unique characteristics throughout the Nation. One size does not fit all.
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, item No. 2, is a unique and beneficial option under CRP. It promotes unique partnerships between USDA, States, local government, conservation organizations, farmers and ranchers. The CREP provides a flexible framework to tailor a program to reflect the needs of a watershed or river basin. It leverages significantly more financial and technical resources than is otherwise available through USDA.
As it was brought up earlier, I think we need to look at areas where we can create a greater capability to deliver these kinds of services with the producers. It also establishes a framework for developing shared goals and outcomes, shared financial and technical commitments and a shared accountability as well as a shared success.
Minnesota is one of the first CREP applicants with the Minnesota River Basin CREP Initiative. Being one of the first, we had our struggles in working through the process and negotiating an agreement. Approximately 15 months in the making, and then an additional several months resolving some buffer strip width issues. The program is now fully operational since the fall of 1998. To date, we have approximately 185 enrollments for 6,100 acres. However, in the last 4 months we have 500 applicants in the pipeline, with another 12,000 to 13,000 acres associated with those applicants.
Minnesota's primary goal is water quality enhancement and wildlife habitat enhancement. Minnesota is committing over $60 million in financial and technical support to this 100,000-acre CREP initiative. Our primary concern is maintaining the Federal commitment to CREP in the buffer components of CRP. Loss of the Federal commitment will cripple our partnering efforts and the leveraging of State and private resources. We encourage increased flexibility to address the mutual Federal, State and local conservation needs of CREPs. Providing flexibility for practice standards is one issue. As an example, one practice for marginal pasture lands requires the planting of trees even though we are set ecologically in a prairie setting. It is really an inconsistency that needs to be addressed and flexibility provided. In addition,leaving opportunity for more than one CREP per State, particularly where watershed and river basins involve two or more States or by natural watersheds or basins. I believe that enhanced flexibility with CREPs can also address situations where crop disease, climatic abnormalities, could be benefited by periodic retirement of land to eliminate the disease, reduce emergency and disaster costs, while enhancing soil quality, water retention, infiltration, and habitat values.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On multiyear set-asides, we have recognized and supported the need for a multiyear set-aside program to complement but not to detract from CRP. Many crop lands of good quality do not reach the EBI threshold or are not in areas eligible for continuous CRP. Yet these lands merit periodic retirement from production for a variety of reasons. Crop disease, climate conditions, deteriorated soil quality are a few reasons. If managed properly, these lands can benefit water, soil land, and water quality and quantity. There is opportunity for this type of program to be an incentive program for alternative uses such as native seed production, various types of biomass, while maintaining the water quality and quantity and habitat values. These options can be significant in helping financially strapped farmers and ranchers as well as benefiting conservation needs. Some aspects might be not just contracts but may be loans to provide for some of those incentives.
We have some interests that have been looking at the options of having some loan opportunities, and then when, for example, on biomass rotation is harvested to repay those loans, and still end up with a very positive economic consideration.
Key concerns. This type of program should not detract from or be competitive with CRP but complementary. Lands should be managed to achieve a balance of conservation benefits in the mix.
Opportunities for partnerships with States. As was mentioned earlier, we are in times when dollars and resources are limited and becoming more so with each passing year. Partnerships are critical. State and local Governments and private conservation organizations are willing to take on a greater responsibility in the financial and technical obligations associated with the delivery of these programs. The support and partnering with the Federal agencies I think can go a long ways in helping address those dollars in professional resource needs.
In summary, Mr. Chairman and committee, I strongly endorse increasing the CRP cap to 45 million acres, including increasing the allocation to the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and Buffer Initiatives. This, coupled with increased partnerships with States and increased flexibility of these programs, will result in even greater successes for an already successful program benefiting farmers and ranchers and conservation.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you for the opportunity to address this committee and I would be happy to stand for any questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Harnack appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Harnack. All members of the panel should be advised that we do have copies of your testimony. We appreciate the timeliness upon receiving that testimony, and it is made a part of the permanent record. We also operate under the 5-minute rule. You will notice the lights in front of you, as the amber light appears that says that you have approximately a minute left in your 5-minute period. However, we are a little lax at times, but keep it in mind. Do the best you can to keep it within the 5 minutes.
STATEMENT OF J. READ SMITH, FIRST VICE-PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CONSERVATION DISTRICTS
Mr. J. READ SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is Read Smith and I live and farm in rural eastern Washington in a very challenging farming area called the Palouse. I am here today representing the National Association of Conservation Districts. I serve as a volunteer on my district board in eastern Washington, and along with the other 3,000 districts across the Nation we represent 16,000 women and men volunteers which govern the boards of the Nation's conservation districts. Our primary mission is the conservation of natural resources on private land. We represent with cooperative agreements 70 percent of the private land in America.
I am here today to tell the committee that Americas's conservation districts support Representative Peterson's bill, but we do have some concerns. We would be hopeful that the committee would make certain that proper incentives are there to attract additional acres, and perhaps more importantly, and what came out earlier in testimony, is the necessary technical assistance that goes along with making that program a success.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We definitely need to fix the section 11 cap. Conservation programs across America should be exempt from this cap and it is so very important to get that fix made.
The Environmental Benefits Index, although a great improvement from the original programs, still needs some flexibility, particularly at the State level. I would hope that some tweaking of that program could allow States to have more input as to the EBIs developed for the lands within their control.
The continuous CRP is a wonderful but underused asset of these programs. And I would think that it would be much greater used, as would the CREPs, if we could tweak the eligibility of adjacent land so that we could attract not only additional land into the CREPs and the buffers and continuous sign-ups, but allow for some adjustments in adjacent ground which would attract considerably more acres in all those programs.
As I said, the conservation districts of America support expanding the Conservation Reserve Program, but we must address the technical assistance shortfalls. We must make the program more user friendly, and I guess, as I am sure the committee is well aware, the continuing erosion of the farm economy has the whole system seeking solutions.
This is one of a host of tools that would help the farm economy survive these next few years, and hopefully you would be able to find ways to perhaps get the cost sharing and/or the rental payments into the hands of participating producers faster so it would help them through this very difficult time. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak today and I am happy to answer questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Smith appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. Mr. Peterson.
STATEMENT OF MAX PETERSON, EXECUTIVE VICE-PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE AGENCIES
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. MAX PETERSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is Max Peterson. I am executive vice-president of this organization, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, with a very long name, but which day to day represents the 50 State Fish and Wildlife agencies, and I am particularly pleased to have with me Bill Baxter from Nebraska, whom you have already recognized. Bill has been a longtime practitioner of getting conservation practices of the farm bill on the ground, and he is vice chairman of our Agriculture Conservation Committee, and so we have used him extensively in preparing this testimony and other presentations we have made to this committee.
Let me say, first, that we support the increase in the caps on the Conservation Reserve Program to 45 million acres, as indicated in Congressman Peterson's bill. Recently, when our organization met in Burlingame, CA, we recognized that the caps should be raised. We sent a letter to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and the Appropriation Committees espousing this position, along with several other conservation organizationsI have attached a copy of that letter to my testimony.
We would encourage your expedited attention to H.R. 408 and to include this acreage authorization increase as a part of additional farm relief which the Congress is considering. It will take some time to put this program in place, so the quicker you can authorize this increase in the cap, the quicker we can get it started.
While not in my testimony, I would also associate myself with earlier comments about raising the section 11 cap on technical assistance. I think that is absolutely essential if this program is going to get off the ground.
I would also recommend that increasing attention be given to working cooperatively with States who might be able to provide some technical assistance if they are given some financial help to do so.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, as you know, historically the Association was involved in the 1985, the 1990 and the 1996 farm bills. I think there was substantial improvement when the Environmental Benefits Index was established to recognize on a coequal basis wildlife values, water quality, and erosion.
Let me say that we recognize that any index that you create is not perfect. We have ourselves espoused the idea that maybe some more flexibility at the State level in using that index might be beneficial because it really is not possible on a national level to be sure that you are considering just the right factors. For example, we have thought that the interrelationship between lands at times is important. For example, if you have got a buffer along a stream, you can add benefit both to the buffer and to the adjacent lands by considering that in awarding CRP contracts. That is a little interrelationship that we probably could work out in a tweaking of the index.
Let me recognize, as I did my testimony, that CRP really had a bigger impact on wildlife, I think, than any of us recognized in 1985. We have seen now, and I have indicated several examples ranging from the increase in the duck population in the Dakotas and Montana because of CRP, and places where species were threatened or near being threatened; like in Colorado, the status of the greater prairie chicken has been upgraded from endangered to threatened status.
And in Idaho, the Columbia sharptail grouse, a candidate for Federal listing, is making a dramatic recovery.
As you well know in the State of Nebraska, the CRP has allowed a substantial increase in benefits which includes the greater prairie chicken and the sharptail grouse, which are grassland-dependent species, to recolonize parts of their historic range in Nebraska.
As you know, the sharptail grouse was extirpated in Nebraska; it has been brought back to the point now where it provides hunting opportunity for people. I have outlined some other benefits of the CRP. But let me close by saying, Mr. Chairman, we would be glad to assist the committee in any way we can to increase the cap to 45 million acres and to improve what has been a wonderful program. Thank you very much.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The statement of Mr. Max Peterson appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Peterson. I, too, am glad that you recognize Mr. Baxter, but you need to know that in my experience over the years, he never did provide enough fish in those Nebraska streams and ponds for me to catch.
Mr. MAX PETERSON. I am going to go out and check that out personally and see how he is doing.
Mr. BARRETT. Good luck. Mr. Nomsen.
STATEMENT OF DAVID E. NOMSEN, VICE-PRESIDENT, GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS, PHEASANTS FOREVER, INC.
Mr. NOMSEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am also pleased to hear that last remark and note to Bill that that will be part of the permanent record.
Mr. Chairman and members, it is a pleasure to be here on behalf of Pheasants Forever. As the chairman noted, I live in Alexandria, MN, correctly, and my wife will also appreciate that correction there, although I do spend a fair amount of time in this city.
We are very pleased to be here today to talk about our support for H.R. 408 and increasing the cap on CRP to 45 million acres. In our view, the bottom line is very clear: This program has generated nothing short of landmark soil, water and wildlife conservation benefits, period. And our goal should be the immediate expansion of this program to 45 million acres and continue to refine and target CRP to all agricultural landscapes. It is certainly going to benefit our natural resources, farmers and taxpayers.
Last September, Pheasants Forever called upon congressional leaders to raise the cap on CRP to 45 million acres, and we were doing that in part to a response to our many farmer and rancher members. We completed about 17,000 projects, private lands projects for the most part with farmers and ranchers. And we have firsthand knowledge of the financial plight that they are facing right now.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I might note that I have had bankers tell me how the farmers who have had a portion of their lands in the Conservation Reserve Program are so much better off from a cash flow standpoint than those that do not. So there is no question that this program also provides tremendous economic and economic stability benefits to farmers and landowners. And that is one of the reasons right now, while you have heard about many of the groups that while we support the expansion of CRP for resource benefits, it also does provide timely economic assistance to landowners.
In last month's June-July Agriculture Outlook, USDA noted that without additional authority, there will be only limited opportunities for new lands to be enrolled it the CRP. We are very encouraged here this morning to hear the Department's support of some to-be-defined level of increase in the program. And that is certainly a step in the right direction.
I would like to point out that Pheasants Forever also strongly supports the ongoing Buffer Initiative and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs. And we do feel overall with a little bit more time that many of these programs are really on the verge of taking off. I especially watch and am noteful of the Minnesota project and this one is just coming around the corner now, as Mr. Harnack's testimony noted, and is really taking off; and it is widely supported by the farmers in that particular area.
We have also been watching very carefully much of the discussion about other land diversions, biomass fuels, commodity supply control, improved soil productivity, and some of the other ideas out there that could be incorporated into a short-term program.
We recommend the development of something we are calling the Rural Soil and Wildlife Enhancement Program for about 3 to 5 years, based upon the model that was put in place with the multiyear set-aside. We do feel very strongly that this, like many of the other people here this morning, that that potential new program should be separated from the Conservation Reserve Program. In our view, this is perhaps a program that is better targeted towardleave CRP targeted toward the environmentally sensitive lands, and perhaps this new program targeted at lands of, say, an EI of 8 or less. We also feel it is a program that every farmer could be allowed to participate in. And if it is designed correctly, we can have some great environmental and wildlife benefits from that.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Saying that, however, I do want to wrap back around and note that, as Mr. Peterson noted throughout the hearing today, that the Conservation Reserve Program is available now, and it is widely accepted and it is something that we strongly support the expansion of.
Several quick tweakings that we would like to offer for especially the Buffer Initiative, include things like wider practice widths that can be more beneficial to wildlife, the addition of center pivot corners and field borders as a new practice. And we have heard some discussion today about a practice that we kind of call a small block habitat practice where farmers could receive the flexibility that they need to square up fields. From a wildlife standpoint we could get, say, 15-to 20-acre small blocks in conjunction with the strip practices, and those two practices, those things together, could really maximize wildlife benefits, especially in fairly intense agricultural landscapes.
The last thing I will mention is a practice regarding the 338 notice where we also think that the Department should take another look at that particular notice. We do have some tremendous opportunities to put vegetation on broad back terraces in places like Kansas, Nebraska, portions of Iowa. And it is a way of adding more benefits to a current practice. So we would support the Department taking another look at that current notice.
And thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Nomsen appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you Mr. Nomsen.
STATEMENT OF DAVID STAWICK, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL CONSERVATION BUFFER COUNCIL
Mr. STAWICK. Good afternoon Mr. Chairman, Mr. Minge. Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. The National Conservation Buffer Council is a nonprofit agribusiness-sponsored organization that was formed to promote the family conservation practices known as buffers for water quality purposes.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Since Secretary Glickman set the goal of establishing 2 million miles of conservation buffers on private lands by 2002, approximately 612,000 miles of buffers have been put in place with the help of USDA incentive programs, and that is just with those programs there. There are no doubt other buffers that have been put in place with other State programs or with no assistance at all. About 92 percent of the newly created buffers, thanks to the USDA programs, are enrolled in the CRP. So the operation of the conservation reserve is obviously of tremendous importance to the goals of our organization, especially the continuous sign-up.
The Buffer Council has appreciated the cooperation of USDA, the support we received from the Congress; but, Mr. Chairman, the time has come to do still more to promote conservation buffers, enhance water quality, and thereby help shield farmers and ranchers from costly new environmental regulations. And I really want to stress that point. We have talked a lot about economics today, and certainly in the short term there are tremendous challenges facing farmers and ranchers but there are some tremendous problems out there looming on the horizon as well.
My written statement, Mr. Chairman, details several suggestions for the Department on administering the CRP. I am gratified that many other witnesses share those views. I will just touch on a few of them now.
First, maintain discipline in the regular CRP sign-ups. The Department must be as selective as possible in future regular CRP enrollment periods if it is to fulfill the buffer pledge.
Second, increase incentives for buffer enrollment. Through the continuous sign-up, certain buffer practices yield an annual bonus of up to 20 percent of the annual contract rental rate. Larger premiums may be necessary to increase the rate of sign-up, as many others have mentioned. I would note that the administration is on record in the Clean Water Action Plan as committing to reviewing and increasing incentive levels as necessary. And obviously we appreciate the earlier testimony from the Department that they were looking at that.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Third, consider new and innovative incentives, a one-time payment at the outside of a contract, a so-called signing bonus may be very useful in spurring interest, and we also think that there is substantial possible benefit from prompting landowners themselves to promote buffers, that has been mentioned earlier, the performance bonus in Oregon's CREP.
On another topic, if the Secretary cannot see a way to do so, we would also urge the subcommittee to consider a change in law that would permit the haying and grazing of buffers, and I stress only buffers that are in the CRP, without economic penalty. This would attract interest from livestock producers and also, to me, would provide a rather intriguing possibility for livestock to become an environmental asset and not just a problem, and instead help us maintain those buffers if we keep them out of the water.
With regard to the other issue of the CRP enrollment cap, we will diverge a little bit from some of the other testimony you have heard today. We would suggest, Mr. Chairman, that it is premature to consider increasing the CRP acreage limitation to 45 million acres. And there is sound environmental logic for this position. The most serious environmental challenges that our agriculture producers will face in the coming years involve water quality, and we have just not heard enough about that here this morning.
And you are familiar with all these challenges: total maximum daily loads, drinking water, consumer confidence reports, confined livestock operations and comprehensive nutrient management plans, the hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Add to hese a matrix of State quality regulations, and the potential economic impact of those issues on producers really gets frayed. At historical rhetoric levels, raising the acreage cap by 8.6 million acres could plausibly have a price tag as high at $500 million a year.
I noted in USDA's testimony that they have numbers projected out around that magnitude in ome of the outyears. I would ask you to think about that amount as an additional Federal Government investment, if you will, in agricultural conservation. I would say that I feel an investment of that magnitude is justified.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But, given the environmental challenges that we face, that I just mentioned that stand to really impact farmers' bottom lines in the future, the best way to utilize such a new investment would not be to place it all in CRP. A small portion of the investment might be appropriate for the CRP, but for buffers or lands with extremely high environmental value. Some of the investment also might be made in the Wetlands Investment Program, assuming it reaches its enrollment limit. I haven't heard much about the WRP, but todayI understand this is a CRP hearing, but there are a number of tools that are out there in the tool box.
The best destination for any new environmental funds bill at this point would be the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. There is much more demand for EQIP funds than supply. It is more than 2 to 1. And sadly and inexplicably, that supply of money is getting smaller. The EQIP funding level of $200 million mandatory in the farm bill, was cut $26 million last year and stands to take the same hit in fiscal year 2000.
We urge you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Minge, all members of the subcommittee, to support a restoration of EQIP funds and an increasing of EQIP funds in the appropriate legislative vehicles later this year.
In conclusion, the CRP has been a very successful program, especially to the extent that buffers and other environmentally valuable lands have been enrolled. It provides and will continue to provide an important wildlife habitat. As Max said, I think, to paraphrase him, it was one of those fortunate kind of accidents of Government policy and it turned out to be a lot more beneficial for wildlife than anybody ever expected.
But more environmental benefits per dollar expended stand to be gained at this time by a modest, highly-targeted use of land idling and a more aggressive promotion of management practices on land that is in production, including buffers, and that is what EQIP was designed to do.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. Thanks also, by the way, to your staffs on both sides for their cooperation.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Mr. Stawick appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Stawick, we appreciate your testimony. We appreciate all of the testimony.
Let me digress from what at least is my normal procedure, and that is to ask individual questions, and suggest to you that you have had now the benefit of listening to the Congressman Peterson, you have had the benefit of listening to the testimony from three individuals from USDA, and I noticed you were listening intently and I believe some of you take taking a note or two.
Is there something that you as a group, if you want to volunteer any information that you think we need to know after hearing those people testify, anything for the good of the order, any suggestions, addendums, subtractions, anything that jumps out at you that this subcommittee ought to be aware of in its oversight responsibilities?
Mr. HARNACK. Mr. Chairman, I don't know that I can add much more than what has already been said. I think that the increase to the 45 million is certainly warranted. I think the ranchers and farmers of the Nation certainly deserve the incentives that are going to help put those kind of conservation practices on the ground. And I think we can see a tremendous return in terms of economic benefit to the communities, not just the farmers, but there are recreational benefits that go far beyond what we I think have even envisioned. And so the sooner that we can put this kind of thing on the ground and get that kind of increase achieved, I think is the biggest challenge that we have.
Mr. BARRETT. You are all positive. Mr. Smith.
Mr. J. READ SMITH. Mr. Chairman, the only thing that comes to my mind is the plight of the producers out in the farms and ranchers across the Nation. And I think anything the committee can do to provide additional incentives for them to not drop their stewardship ethics during this very difficult time would be most helpful.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are, and I say that because I am out there with them, we are under extreme pressure from our lending institutions and others that sometimes control our lives more than we do, and any good faith effort by the committee and others here in town to show the confidence that hopefully our bankers have in us would be very helpful to get us through this period. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. Mr. Peterson.
Mr. MAX PETERSON. Mr. Chairman, a couple things came up during my discussion I thought was important. I think Congressman Peterson said, rightly, that CRP is widely respected. It is out there. It is ready to go. The regulations are written. It can be put into place reasonably quick.
If you start talking about a new program of 3 to 5 years we haven't seen the dimensions of that. We don't know what it would look like. I think there would be a substantial amount of disagreement of what it should look like. For example, in some places, 3 to 5 years would provide very little wildlife benefits; in some other place, it would provide substantial benefits. But we would object to that being a part of CRP, it ought to be a separate program, and take some time to work that through.
The next thing that I noted is the concern about getting this program on line due to staffing difficulties. I do think, as I mentioned, we should fix the section 11 caps. I do also think that USDA could use agreements with States particularly that could in some cases provide staffing help if they had some financial assistance, because just removing the staffing caps, if you have to go out and hire people and train people, will take a long time. Some places USDA may be able to use retirees on contracts to come back and help out. I think we need to use a little bit of creativity in putting this program on the ground and not just go through normal procedures. Those are a couple of things I thought about during the testimony.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Mr. Baxter.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAXTER. A couple of quick items. One is what Max was just talking about on the staffing pattern. Nebraska is a private land State. We are 97 percent or something privately owned. We are dependent for our wildlife, water quality, soil protection, on that private landowner out there.
As far as the technical assistance from the cap, our agency has made a commitment, after 1985, and in 1996 to assist in any way we can out there. We are currently cofunding positions with the NRCS. We make people available to assist with technical assistance, where they can, in the offices. So I think there are some innovative ways to get some of these things done.
The other is on CREP. We think it is a good program. It is a little hard to get one off the ground. We should have one ready to submit to Washington within the next 10 days.
Mr. BARRETT. Very good. Thank you. Mr. Nomsen.
Mr. NOMSEN. Mr. Chairman, I have heard a couple of things this morning during the hearing that I am encouraged about. And correct me if I am wrong, perhaps, but for the first time I heard the Department step forward and say they actually do support an increase in authority for this program. And I think we need to share that information as widely as possible, along with the information about when will the next general sign-up take place. So I was very encouraged to hear those two things.
This is a program that if continued and expanded to 45 million acres, there is no question in our mind that it is well on its way to continuing the wildlife legacy established by the original CRP. And we would certainly urge the subcommittee and the full committee to give it serious consideration. This is a proven program that works for wildlife and for farmers. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. Mr. Stawick.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. STAWICK. Mr. Chairman, again I think we have to be very sympathetic to the economic situation that farmers are in out there right now. But I think we also, as many other people have said in one fashion or another, we shouldn't confuse the issues of agricultural economics and conservation environment. I am hearing some people saying, I believe Mr. Peterson as well saying, this is a good opportunity to get money into the hands of producers through the regular CRP, for example.
Well, I just ask you to consider again where we were in the mid1990's as some of those initial CRP contracts that were entered into were reaching maturity. In those early sign-ups in the 1980's, we were interested in multiple goals of conservation, yes, but land idling, price increasing for farmers, and getting money into their hands. And as a result, I think that there was veryif not unanimity of opinion, there was, I think, a broad recognition that as you looked at the land that was in the CRP then, there was a lot of land that probably should not have been in the CRP. However, there was also a lot of land that probably should have been in the CRP that couldn't get in because of where we were in the cap, and then the limitation on future sign-ups that was imposed by the appropriators, that is the magic of 36.4 million acres.
So I just urge you to keep that in mind so we don't face whomever is around in dealing with those issues in 10 more years, that they won't have a similar situation to face.
I would also, though, say that I think we agree about a lot more than we disagree on, especially on issues of the continuous sign-up. I really do appreciate that.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. Thank all of you for those thoughts. We appreciate it. I yield to my learned colleague, Mr. Minge.
Mr. MINGE. Thank you. I would like to welcome particularly the two gentlemen that are in the panel from Minnesota, Mr. Harnack and Mr. Nomsen, because I know that you provided leadership in your respected fields and I appreciate your being here.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ron, I would like to ask you about the relationship between RIM and CRP. RIM, for those of you that are not familiar with it, is Reinvest In Minnesota. It is a State-sponsored set-aside program and it focuses on land that has greatest conservation wildlife utilizationor potential.
And we have had this issue arise as to whether or not we can get land coming out of RIM into the Conservation Reserve Program. Is this still a problem? And is this something we should be addressing here in Congress?
Mr. HARNACK. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Minge, when the RIM reserve program kicked off, an option the first year was a 10-year easement. After that, it was a 20-year to perpetual, and today it is primarily a permanent program due to the demand and the direction of our State legislature.
But we had about 20,000 acres that were in, in the early years, into the 10-year program, that are now coming out, we were not able to get them eligible for CRP, as landowners wanted. We felt that was inappropriate because there is no difference between RIM, because it was required to have a 5-year cropping history just as CRP, and as one transcends from one contract under CRP to another, it retains its cropping history. And it was our intent that RIM did the same.
The reason why USDA felt that RIM lands could not be eligible is because we used an easement rather than a contract, even though the underlying conditions were the same. We now have about 4,000 acres, I believe, that are still about to come out of RIM, that under current interpretations would not be eligible for CRP. And our understanding is that that requires a congressional fix, and is not an administrative discretion for USDA.
Mr. MINGE. So this would still be helpful to get corrected.
Mr. HARNACK. Mr. Minge, it would be very beneficial.
Mr. MINGE. The second thing I would like to ask you, there has been discussion of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs around the country, and we have the second one that was implemented, the Minnesota River Basin, and you have been very actively involved in the negotiations that led up to it, and now in its implementation. And are there any adjustments in the Conservation Reserve Program that you think we should consider in order to make the CREP, as we have experienced it in Minnesota or elsewhere, a stronger program?
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HARNACK. I mentioned a couple, Mr. Chairman and members, I mentioned a couple of issues. One is having greater flexibility in the conservation practices to be consistent with the ecological diversity of the State. Some parts require planting of trees, other parts really should not be. So you sustain kind of the prairie perspective that is there. And again my understanding is that there is not flexibility within USDA and the CREP to address that particular issue.
Mr. MINGE. Would that take legislative action, as you understand it?
Mr. HARNACK. As I understand it. The other issue which was difficult to negotiate is as we went back and forth, as has been raised by others here, is addressing the width aspect associated with CREP. Although I think habitat is a consideration and certainly was a strong motive for us, I felt that that was really a struggle in getting an understanding in getting a width negotiated that was of optimum benefit to wildlife. Water quality tended to carry the day, and wildlife kind of second to the water quality component.
Mr. MINGE. Thank you. And then, Mr. Nomsen, I know that you have an interest in these programs, and there is a question I would like to ask you about practices that you think we should allow farmers to undertake that would make the programs more attractive to farmers or options that they might have in utilization of the land as they participate in the program.
Mr. NOMSEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Minge. I think perhaps I should reiterate my comments about my call for a new farmer-friendly program that involves small blocks of habitat, because basically if you look at why CRP was beneficial to wildlife, we are talking about a program that was, in large, good cover and the acreages were idle throughout the year. And that is essentially, in a nutshell, why we received such tremendous wildlife benefits.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In areas like, for example, your district in southern Minnesota, though, where we have fairly intense agriculture, what we could do through this development of this new program is help farmers be more respective to enrolling buffers and provide those smaller critical blocks of wildlife habitat that are necessary for resident wildlife production, especiallyand as you might suspectespecially pheasants. Perhaps as little as 40 acres per section, if managed in the right covers, can be very very beneficial for pheasant production. I don't know if we could match the production from South Dakota, but we could certainly increase pheasant production. That is one of the things, and it would help farmers participate.
I also noted that if that practice is also tied to the buffers, if we are putting the filter strips out there, the riparian buffers and the grass waterways, we are also maximizing, of course, those water quality benefits. And I might note that my colleague to the left here noted hypoxia. A great deal of the nitrate flux that is likely responsible for part of the Gulf's hypoxia situation comes from the upper Mississippi Valley. I think we should do everything we can possibly do to maximize buffers. In our viewpoint, every single farm out there should be encouraged to participate in that Buffer Initiative. Thank you.
Mr. MINGE. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. The gentleman from Kansas, Mr. Moran.
Mr. MORAN. Mr. Chairman, thank you. I notice the absence of the adjective ''learned'' before your introduction of me. I know that you and I are sufficiently good friends that I will not remember it beyond next week.
I appreciate the panel. I apologize, I only heard Mr. Stawick's testimony. Did anyone want to take issue with what he had to say about the priorities, particularly as they relate to how we would distribute the amount of money and his emphasis on EQIP?
Mr. MAX PETERSON. Let me disagree partially. The Buffer Initiative is one that we have supported from the word go. I think the fact that it has only enrolled about 300,000 acres a year means that it needs some fine-tuning to make it more friendly to those who would enroll in it. And one of the things that I think needs to be done is increase the width of the strip; and, as Mr. Nomsen indicated, also allow the squaring up of the field or adding some small acres in CRP nearby that would make both more efficient. I think that would be a farmer-friendly type of thing that would make sense.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I suggested to Pearlie Reed, the chief of NRCS, a few months ago; that rather than sit here inside the Beltway and dream up things that the farmers might find attractive, that we go out and talk to the farmers about what they might find attractive. Because I talked to my brother in Missouri who is in this kind of business, he said if you enroll 100 feet along the stream in my State, you get the farmers' best land. And he only gets like 10 or 12 acres a mile. And he gets so few dollars it is not worth fooling around with it, particularly if you have to pay half the fencing cost. It takes 10 years to amortize the fencing cost.
So I think there are some serious problems with the buffer strip in terms of making it more user friendly to the farmers.
I disagree that we should not raise the cap at this time, because I think we need to raise the cap. These two programs are complementary, they are not competitive if we work them right. We also supported EQIP, but I think they do different things. EQIP was designed to handle animal feeding problems and so on. So I don't think it is one versus the other. I think they work together. So I would disagree that we should delay the cap for other reasons.
Mr. MORAN. Mr. Nomsen.
Mr. NOMSEN. Congressman Moran, I would also like to respond to that. Certainly we disagree that we would like to very aggressively go forward with a large CRP of 45 million acres. It has a proven track record and it is widely accepted by farmers and landowners. The bottom line is very simple: It works. I believe you were out of the room, I did mention specifically in your area some additional things that we can do based upon the new CRP with its broader objectives, including soil, water and wildlife for first time.
And specific to that we are alsowe share your concerns with the 338 notice. Because what we have been able to do in your particular area is provide wildlife benefits that are widely sought after by farmers in cooperation with putting vegetation on the backs of terraces. It makes sense. It is the right thing to do. We would certainly hope that we could see that situation rectified shortly.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MORAN. I agree with you, as you heard earlier. A couple of things that my farmers tell me about farmer-friendly, and what in particular caught my interest was your statement about the number of acres necessary to get wildlife benefit. I think you said 30 or 40.
Mr. NOMSEN. That is correct. Thirty or 40 acres in an idle good cover per section can be very beneficial to many species, especially species like pheasants and quail. You are not going to benefit species that need vast large blocks like prairie chickens or sharp tailed grouse type of thing. But in some parts of the country, this is the best thing that we could do.
Mr. MORAN. The amber light has arrived, but one of the suggestions from my farmers is the corners of the circle. That is very popular. Does that size of acres, additional CRP, though maybe apparently farmer friendly, is it also wildlife friendly?
Mr. NOMSEN. Yes, it is. That is why we also support the addition of center pivot corners and field borders as continuous sign-up practices.
Mr. MORAN. I want to look at the continuous sign-up issues on the corners, on the pivots as well as the 338 notice, also look back to the old regulations when farmers could enroll additional acres to square off the irregular tracts in their CRP acres just to make it easier to farm. I think there are at least three things that I can think of that we can do to the CRP that, from what I know, is beneficial to meeting the goals of the program.
And my time has expired. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. If there are no further questions, I want to again thank the members of the panel for being with us. I know that in some cases you have expended your own personal resources to be with us. And we are grateful for the information that you have shared with us today. Thank you again very much.
The Chair would seek unanimous consent to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive additional material and supplementary written responses from witnesses to any question posed by a member of the panel. Without objection it is so ordered. The hearing is now adjourned.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Whereupon, at 1:03 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
Statement of David E. Nomsen
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, my name is Dave Nomsen. I reside in Alexandria, MN, and am the vice-president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever. Thank-you for the opportunity to address this Committee on the Conservation Reserve Program and H.R. 408.
I am here today to speak on the tremendous benefits of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). In our view the bottom line is clear. CRP: (1) generates landmark soil, water, and wildlife conservation benefits; (2) increases farm income and provides income stability; and (3) saves taxpayers and the Federal Government money. We believe that the record provides overwhelming evidence that CRP has been a wise investment. Our goal should be the immediate expansion of a resource focused CRP to 45 million acres, and to continue to refine and target CRP to all agricultural landscapes, to the betterment of natural resources and the environment, farmers and taxpayers, and society as a whole. This viewpoint remains unchanged from my previous appearance before the Subcommittee in 1995.
Last September, Pheasants Forever called upon Congress to provide authority for a 45 million acre program. While we believe that the resource benefits alone from CRP justify program expansion, we were also reacting to imput from our many farmer and rancher members. We complete up to 17,000 habitat projects annually, the majority of which are on farms and ranches. We have first-hand knowledge of the critical financial plight of America's farmers and ranchers. Since last fall, many other groups have stepped forward and echoed our call for a 45 million acre CRP. Most recently, 10 leading conservation and environmental groups called upon Congressional leaders to provide authority for a 45 million acre CRP and that the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) be expanded to at least 2 million acres allowing annual enrollment of 250,000 acres per year. The groups noted that in addition to resource protection for our nation's soil, water, and fish and wildlife resources that these programs offer timely economic assistance to struggling farmers and landowners. Groups signing the letter included Ducks Unlimited, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Izaak Walton League of America, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Rifle Association, Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy, The Wildlife Society, Trout Unlimited, and the Wildlife Management Institute.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In the June/July Agricultural Outlook USDA noted that without additional authority only limited opportunities remain for new acreage to be enrolled in CRP. Pheasants Forever strongly supports the ongoing buffer initiative and the innovative Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). We offer our full support for H.R. 408 raising CRP authority to 45 million acres. We remain convinced that USDA can do more to ensure CRP is an integral component of all agricultural landscapes. Providing additional authority is the first step.
At Pheasants Forever we have been carefully monitoring much of the discussion regarding future land diversions and alternative crop production. We believe that the conservation-based merits of CRP alone justify program expansion to 45 million acres and are concerned that efforts to address other issues such as bioenergy and biofuels, commodity supply control, improved soil productivity, et cetera could potentially jeopardize the environmental integrity of CRP. We do recognize, however, that some of these new initiatives could also provide conservation benefits if designed and implemented properly. Pheasants Forever recommends the development of a Rural Soil and Wildlife Enhancement Program (RSWEP) allowing landowners to idle a portion of their cropland acreage in a manner similar to the 1990 multi-year set-aside. Wildlife-friendly and soil productivity enhancing covers of a grass and legume mix could be planted on 15 percent of every landowners existing cropland acres. While CRP is focused on environmentally sensitive lands through national standards, RSWEP lands would be targeted toward an individual farms most environmentally sensitive cropland. Annual payment should be set based on a flat county by county rate, sufficient to encourage participation in this voluntary program. Contract length should be for 5 years. Management should include conservation and wildlife objectives. This program offers the opportunity to provide critical wildlife production lands across all agricultural landscapes and provides additional income stability to struggling farmers and landowners. This program in conjunction with the CRP buffer initiative could maximize wildlife and environmental benefits in every region of the country, provide critical income support to farmers and landowners, and would greatly benefit pheasants and other wildlife.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, that concludes my opening statement. I would be happy to answer any questions and thank-you for the opportunity to appear before the committee.
Statement of David Stawick
The National Conservation Buffer Council (NCBC) appreciates this opportunity to comment on issues regarding the Conservation Reserve Program. NCBC is a non-profit, private-sector organization dedicated to the promotion of agricultural conservation practices for water quality purposes, including the family of practices known as buffers. Represented on NCBC's board of trustees are Cargill, Incorporated, ConAgra, Inc., Farmland Industries, Inc., Monsanto Company, Novartis Crop Protection, Inc., Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. and Terra Industries, Inc.
NCBC was organized in 1997 in response to Agriculture Secretary Glickman's goal of establishing two million miles of new conservation bufferspractices such as filter strips, riparian buffers, grassed waterways and contour grass stripson private agricultural land by 2002. I am pleased to note that since that goal was laid out, approximately 612,000 miles of buffers have been put in place with the help of U.S. Department of Agriculture incentive programs. About 92 percent of those newly created buffers are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), either through the continuous signup for buffer practices, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), or the ''regular'' CRP. Obviously, the operation of the CRP is of tremendous importance to our organization.
Generally speaking, USDA has done a commendable job of administering the CRP since the two-million-mile goal was announced. Although there have been some problems with the continuous signup, it is a much more ''farmer-friendly'' approach than the regular CRP, because of the latter's time-consuming bidding, Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) scoring, national competition and limited enrollment opportunities. And in the regular CRP signups, the department has maintained a higher average EBI for newly contracted land than in the early days of the program.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The administration has also made some very valuable commitments to maintain 5.5 million acres available for buffers under the CRP enrollment cap. The Clean Water Action Plan, released in February 1998, pledged to reserve four million acres for buffers. And USDA has also committed to keep 1.5 million acres available specifically through the CREP.
NCBC has appreciated the cooperation of USDA and the support we have received from Congress. But the time has come to do still more to promote conservation buffers, enhance water quality and thereby help shield farmers and ranchers from costly new environmental regulations.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CRP ADMINISTRATION
While we are gratified that buffer installation has exceeded the 600,000-mile mark, we must accelerate our efforts if we are to meet the 2002 goal. To that end, we recommend the following steps be considered by USDA.
Maintain discipline in regular CRP signups. On October 1, 1999, the CRP enrollment will be near 32.2 million acres, leaving only about 4.2 million acres under the total program enrollment ceiling. Unfortunately, we still have 4.6 million acres to go to meet the administration's acreage commitments I mentioned earlier (i.e., the 5.5 million acres minus the approximately 906,000 acres from the continuous signup and CREP). It is incumbent on the department to be as selective as possible in future regular CRP enrollment periods if it is to fulfill its buffer pledge.
Increase incentives for buffer enrollment. Through the CRP continuous signup, landowners who install filter strips, riparian buffers, grassed waterways and field windbreaks receive an annual bonus of up to 20 percent of their contract rental rate. Although this is a significant amount, we believe a larger premiumperhaps 25 percentmay be necessary to increase the rate of signup. The administration has acknowledged that such steps might be needed; the Clean Water Action Plan states ''USDA will review and increase, where appropriate, the incentives available under the Conservation Reserve Program continuous sign-up'' and other programs to ensure the two-million-mile goal will be met.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Consider new, innovative incentives. Continuous CRP participants receive annual payments that reflect the productivity of their land and include the bonus I mentioned above and a small amount for maintenance. They are also compensated for half the cost of establishing cover on the buffer. A new payment, such as a one-time bonus at the outset of the contract, might be useful in spurring interest. Such a ''signing bonus'' could be roughly the size of one year's rental payment.
USDA should also consider ways to prompt landowners themselves to promote buffers. For example, Oregon's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program pays all participating landowners who establish buffers in five-mile stream segments a bonus of four times the base annual rental rate if 50 percent or more of the land in the segments is signed up. That is a strong incentive for farmers to personally convince their neighbors to participate and may be more broadly applicable around the United States.
Consider new buffer practices. Those practices now eligible for the continuous CRP are quite effective in protecting water resources. Properly installed, well-maintained buffers can reduce nutrient and pesticide loadings by 50 percent or more, reduce sediment loadings by 75 percent and pathogen loadings by 60 percent. These water quality benefits could be increased by making other buffer practices eligible, such as constructed wetlands below tile drainage outlets.
Make buffers a priority for local USDA service centers. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Services Agency (FSA) employees at the local level are busy people. But they are also USDA's most direct links with landowners. NRCS and FSA should consider ways of making buffer promotion a priority for their local representatives, such as acreage or mileage goals on an appropriate geographical basis.
Another issue that, some would argue, is out of the hands of the Secretary is that of allowing haying and grazing of buffers enrolled in the CRP. Current law prohibits economic use of CRP land (at least without some reduction in annual payment). However, I would argue that haying and grazing are also issues of management. Removing vegetation from buffers in a method consistent with a conservation plan will increase the effectiveness of buffers. We would urge the subcommittee to consider a change in law to permit haying and grazing of buffers without economic penalty.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCINCREASING THE CRP ENROLLMENT CAP
NCBC has not taken a formal position on any specific legislation regarding the overall size or composition of the CRP. However, we would suggest it is premature to consider increasing the 36.4-million-acre CRP acreage limitation until that cap has been reached, at which time we would be able to evaluate the environmental benefits of land in the CRP and make a judgement as to how much more environmentally sensitive land might appropriately be enrolled.
There is very sound logic for this position based on the most serious environmental challengesmost of them involving water qualitythat our agricultural producers will face in the coming years. Consider the following:
Computations of ''Total Maximum Daily Loads'' of pollutants going into impaired waterbodies, required under the Clean Water Act and being forced by more than 40 lawsuits, have significant potential implications for agriculture. In allocating ''load reductions,'' states may well be forced to look at regulatory approaches for nonpoint sources of pollution, like farm fields, in addition to the point sources that have been regulated for more than 25 years.
Consumer confidence reports and other source water protection provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act will put the spotlight on agriculture as downstream communities struggle with costly compliance requirements.
Confined livestock operations will remain contentious as economics continue to dictate larger and larger management units and as urban/suburban growth continues to reach into what until now have been farming areas.
Hypoxia, or reduced oxygen levels, in the waters of the Mississippi River drainage region, is getting more and more attention. Fertilizer from farm fields is being blamed by some researchers for the problem and regulations including a 20 percent reduction in nitrogen applications have been suggested to an intergovernmental task force on hypoxia.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Add to this list a matrix of varied state water quality regulations and the potential economic impact of these issues to farmers becomes daunting. One illustration came on July 8, when the American Farm Bureau Federation included in its ''AgRecovery Action Plan'' a request for $5 billion in Federal assistance to help farmers cope with the growing cost of complying with Federal regulatory mandates.
I am not aware of a formal estimate by the Congressional Budget Office of the cost of Rep. Peterson's bill, H.R. 408. However, since current commodity program payments are fixed and would not be reduced by additional land idling, it is reasonable to assume that increasing the size of the CRP would increase net Federal Government outlays. At historical rental rate levels, raising the acreage cap by 8.4 million acres could arguably have a pricetag of between $400 million and $500 million per year. Consider that amount as an additional Federal Government investment in agricultural conservation.
Given the environmental challenges facing farmers, the best way to utilize such a new investment would not, in my view, be to increase the size of the CRP to 45 million acres. A small portion might be invested in the CRP, but only for buffers or lands with extremely high environmental value. Some of the investment might also be made in the Wetlands Reserve Program, assuming it reaches its enrollment limit. But I would suggest that the best use for the bulk of any new environmental funds would be to increase the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). There is much more demand for EQIP funds than supply and, sadly, the supply is getting smaller. EQIP's annual mandatory funding level of $200 million was cut to $174 million in fiscal 1999 and the agricultural appropriations bills passed by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for fiscal 2000 would make the same reduction again. We urge members of the subcommittee to support a restoration of and increase in EQIP funds in any appropriate legislative vehicles later this year.
The CRP has been a very successful environmental program, especially to the extent that buffers and other environmentally valuable land has been enrolled. It provides, and will continue to provide, important wildlife habitat. But more environmental benefits per dollar expended stand to be gained at this time by a modest, highly targeted use of land idling and a more aggressive promotion of management practices on land that is in production, as EQIP was designed to do.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you again for holding this hearing and for giving NCBC the opportunity to comment.
Testimony of Ronald Harnack
Honorable Chairman Barrett and members of the committee, it is my pleasure to address you and speak about the Conservation Reserve Program, this nations most successful conservation program benefiting soil, water, and wildlife resources, and providing financial stability to America*s farmers and ranchers. My remarks, which will be brief, address four points:
The Environmental Benefits Index (EBI)
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs (CREP)
Multi-year (35 year) set aside programs
Opportunities for cooperation with State Programs
On a national scale, I would agree that switching CRP targeting from soil erodibility to the EBI has increased the program benefits per cost of enrolled acre. However, the shift to EBI has made it economically unfeasible for many Minnesota landowners with previously enrolled CRP acres to reenroll those lands. The high value of Minnesota cropland seems to be the primary factor in the difficulty of reenrollment. However, in recent general CRP sign ups, this problem has been minimized due to agency education efforts with landowners and changes in the EBI scoring criteria which recognize land price relative to bid. Nevertheless, I urge you to continue to be mindful of this issue of enrollment/reenrollment difficulties caused by the EBI, as it will contradict efforts to seek new ways to help cash-strapped farmers and ranchers with CRP.
We have a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program for the Minnesota River Basin, a 16,000 square mile watershed in Southern and Southwestern Minnesota, that includes over 300,000 acres of flood prone land. In addition to flood prone lands, the 100,000 acre effort focuses on riparian areas and wetland restoration. The CREP proposal was approved in February of 1998 after fifteen months of negotiation. After several additional months discussing the width of buffer strips, the program became fully operational in the fall of 1998. Despite these delays, over 6,000 acres have been enrolled. And landowner interest continues to build. The program offers a great opportunity for landowners to enroll marginal and environmentally sensitive cropland into agreements that extend the benefits of CRP into perpetuity. These lands are hence removed from the list of lands subject to crop disaster programs. Moreover, significant water quality and wildlife benefits are anticipated. With regard to water quality, we estimate that enrollment of 100,000 acres will reduce phosphorus and sediment by over 1 million pounds and nitrogen by 3 million pounds. Our concern with CREP is that the acreage reserved for CREP from the 36.4 million acres CRP allotment be maintained for the duration of the program, or September 30, 2002. Loss of the Federal commitment will cripple our efforts to leverage state and private resources. At this time, the State of Minnesota is providing over 5 million dollars per year for CREP.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMULTI-YEAR SET-ASIDE PROGRAMS
We have long-recognized and supported the need for a multi-year conservation set aside program to complement the CRP. Many croplands are of good quality, below the EBI threshold or are not in areas eligible for enrollment in continuous CRP. Yet, these lands merit periodic retirement from crop production, for instance because of crop diseases. If properly managed, the benefits to wildlife of a multi year setaside is obvious. And it does afford a way to help cash-strapped farmers and ranchers. Our concern with multi-year set asides is two-fold. Haying and grazing or other land uses should be managed to avoid disruption of wildlife and excessive erosion. The acreage for a multi-year program should not come from the 36.4 million acre CRP allotment. The benefits of a multi-year program do not compare with those of the CRP and to include a multi year (say 35) program within the CRP would compromise the gains of the CRP and make future evaluation of the CRP much more difficult. We, like so many other groups, support the raising of the enrollment cap of CRP to 45 million acres. In that regard, we support Congressman Peterson*s bill, H.R. 408.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR COOPERATION WITH STATE PROGRAMS
For all the good that CRP has accomplished, more can be done to engage state and local government and private groups. Funding and technical resources are available from states and local governments to develop initiatives to complement the CRP. To that end, I offer the following suggestion:
Offer states the opportunity to negotiate flexibility with USDA on certain CRP provisions, such as planting trees on marginal pasture and enrolling land with a cropping history in CRP which were in state programs similar to CRP. I envision a mini-CREP process that is similar to CREP in that a proposal and commitment for financial and technical resources is needed from the state but the overall rigor of CREP approval is reduced as is the acreage commitment.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As numerous disaster relief packages for America*s farmers and ranchers are being debated by policy makers, consideration should be given for an expanded CRP of 45 million acres as one component of a comprehensive relief package. It is possible to help cash strapped farmers and ranchers with the CRP and maintain the impressive conservation accomplishments. This is particularly true, now, when many States are willing to augment CRP funding.
Thank you for the opportunity. I have included additional information with my written testimony that further illustrates my remarks.
Statement of R. Max Peterson
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is Max Peterson, executive vice-president of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and with me today is Bill Baxter of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, who is vice-chair of our Association's Agriculture Conservation Committee.
I appreciate the opportunity to share with you today the perspectives of the Association on the Conservation Reserve Program, and H.R. 408 from Congressman Peterson. As you are aware, the Association has been a key player in the development and passage of the conservation programs under the last three farm bills. The Association is a strong supporter of the Conservation Reserve Program and urges your favorable consideration of H.R. 408, which would raise the authorized CRP enrollment to 45 million acres.
As you know, when CRP was first established in the 1985 farm bill, it was authorized for an enrollment of 45 million acres, which was capped in the 1996 farm bill at 36.4 million acres. The Association believes that the CRP, and other agricultural conservation programs established under the 1985, 1990 and 1996 farm bills, have been some of the most important, significant and successful fish and wildlife conservation endeavors in the last 30 years with significant, tangible on-the-ground benefits. As you also know, the benefits to soil conservation and water quality enhancement have also been tremendous.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Association recently reaffirmed our strong support of this program and the need for and merits of raising the authorized enrollment acreage to 45 million acres, at our March 1999 meeting in Burlingame, California. As a result, we sent letters to the members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees, espousing this position, along with several other conservation organizations. A copy of that letter is attached for your reference. The Association encourages your expedited attention to passage of H.R. 408, and would urge you to include this acreage authorization increase as part of the additional farm relief package Congress is likely to pass by sometime this fall.
The International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies was founded in 1902 as a quasi-governmental organization of public agencies charged with the protection and management of North America's fish and wildlife resources. The Association's governmental members include the fish and wildlife agencies of the states, provinces, and Federal Governments of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. All 50 states are members. The Association has been a key organization in promoting sound resource management and strengthening Federal, state, and private cooperation in protecting and managing fish and wildlife and their habitats in the public interest.
As you are aware, the State fish and wildlife agencies have broad statutory responsibility for the conservation of fish and wildlife resources within their borders. The states are thus legal trustees of these public resources with a responsibility to ensure their vitality and sustainability for present and future citizens of their States. State authority for fish and resident wildlife remains the comprehensive backdrop applicable in the absence of specific, overriding Federal law. The State fish and wildlife agencies thus have concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal agencies for migratory birds, threatened and endangered species and anadromous fish. Because of our responsibility for and vital interest in the conservation of fish and wildlife resources, we have significant vested concerns in agricultural conservation programs under the several farm bills.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The conservation and sustainability of fish and wildlife resources depends on the availability and quality of their habitat, much of which is found on agricultural lands. And, I can assure you that the State fish and wildlife agencies recognize, appreciate and respect the fact that over 70 percent of the land (i.e., habitat) in the United States is owned by private landowners. We also know that most private landowners want to be good stewards of their property and many embrace conservation as a prominent goal for their land management objectives. We believe that the State fish and wildlife agencies have generally enjoyed very good relationships with agricultural landowners, and the majority of those landowners are willing to work with the agencies to include fish and wildlife conservation with their land management objectives. We believe that the farm bill programs provide some necessary tools to integrate commodity production with sound land stewardship to ensure the quality of fish, wildlife, soil and water resources.
Mr. Chairman, the Association believes that the 1985, 1990 and 1996 farm bills laid a solid foundation for economic stability for the agricultural community; affordable food prices; fish, wildlife, soil and water conservation; and tangible benefits to non-farmers such as hunters, anglers, nature enthusiasts and the general public who benefit from sound stewardship of our agricultural lands.
Mr. Chairman, the Association also recognizes and is sensitive to the fact that current conditions caused by low commodity prices, overproduction and declining exports, and one or more years of local weather related disasters have resulted in some of the worst rural economic conditions in recent memory. Producers are in dire need of relief. Unfortunately, many current discussions on remedies often center only on short-term fixes such as direct payment to farmers. While there is nothing wrong with these short-term fixes, they fail to address two of the primary causes of the soft farm economy, i.e., low commodity prices and overproduction. The Association believes that we need to consider long-term remedies if we want to truly help producers in the long run. The Association firmly believes raising the enrollment cap on CRP to 45 million acres is one long-term remedy which helps address the current agricultural economic situation. We also believe that it is appropriate that this remedy be part of a farm relief package. As you know, the general public generally supports farm relief to stabilize the agricultural economy when there is a public benefit quid pro quo such as soil, water, fish and wildlife conservation. H.R. 408 will provide the method for that, and the next farm relief package passed by Congress will provide the means. We urge your favorable consideration of including these recommendations in the next farm relief package.
Page 83 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Let me share with you a few observations on the success of CRP in meeting its objectives, including examples from several States.
The original intent of CRP was to retire highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive lands from crop production and convert them to perennial vegetation for ten years. Thus there would be two benefits: (1) reduction in overproduction with resulting low farm prices, and (2) substantial conservation benefits through reduced soil erosion and increased fish and wildlife habitat. The program has, to its credit, reduced soil erosion by an estimated 700 million tons per year while simultaneously improving water quality by reducing sedimentation, pesticides and nutrients. The benefits to fish and wildlife have been significant and increasing in each of the farm bills.
In the 1996 farm bill, Congress recognized the value of CRP to wildlife and appropriately elevated wildlife to co-equal status with erosion control and water quality consideration, thus enhancing the value of CRP to wildlife.
CRP has provided wildlife benefits in large measure by providing safe nesting and brooding cover, primarily for bird species. Pheasant populations have more than doubled in several states due to CRP, and it is estimated that in one year alone (1994) 3 million additional ducks were produced in the Dakotas and Montana because of CRP. Additionally, the sharp decline of several grassland dependent bird species (grasshopper sparrows, lark buntings and eastern meadowlark, for example) has been reversed and populations are growing in areas of high CRP enrollment. Grassland bird species are 21 times more abundant on CRP fields and 32 times more likely to hatch than on adjacent farmland.
CRP has been and can be a proactive conservation strategy for addressing the needs of declining species before they reach a point when listing under the Endangered Species Act is necessary. In Texas, CRP has provided the lesser prairie chicken with increased nesting and brood habitat in counties where they have been absent for decades. In Colorado, the status of the greater prairie chicken has been upgraded from endangered to threatened status, and in Idaho, the Columbia sharp-tailed grouse, a candidate for Federal listing, is making a dramatic recovery on CRP land. In the long run, CRP could help prevent many species from becoming threatened or endangered. The result is both increased conservation benefits and significantly reduced economic and social costs which listing may entail.
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Increased hunting associated with CRP has been a vital boost to rural economies and an increase in CRP enrollment acreage is expected to provide an additional boost to those economies. Nature based tourism on private lands will also benefit from additional CRP acres, thus further boosting local rural economies.
In Nebraska, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has provided a greater quantity and quality of environmental benefits than any other single program or combination of programs enacted by the Federal or state government, according to our Nebraska Commission. At its peak in Nebraska, CRP provided more than 1.4 million acres of quality wildlife habitat, reduced soil erosion by 31 million tons annually and made direct rental payments to farmers of >approximately $79 million. These payments have been a positive and stabilizing factor in Nebraska's agricultural economy up until 1998.
The CRP has allowed the Greater Prairie Chicken and Sharptailed Grouse, which are grassland dependent species, to re-colonize parts of their historic range in Nebraska. For example, Sharptailed Grouse were extirpated in Nebraska's southern panhandle early in this century. The population there now is large enough to provide a significant recreational opportunity to resident and non-resident hunters. The establishment and growth of this population is directly attributable to the acreage enrolled in CRP. Pheasants, grassland songbirds and other wildlife have all benefited directly from the grasslands established by CRP.
The value added from CRP lands to local economies from hunting and fishing opportunities is significant. Hunting, fishing and wildlife associated recreation are an important segment of Nebraska's economy. The 1996 National Survey of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Associated Recreation estimates that more than 600,000 participants engaged in more than 7,000,000 visitor days of hunting, fishing or wildlife-associated recreation during 1996. They expended more than $649 million dollars pursuing this recreation. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission estimates that CRP's contribution to these totals is between 20 and 25 percent, which is between $130 to $162 million annually!
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In South Dakota, CRP has been extremely important in providing essential, long-term wildlife habitat. Pheasant populations are at 30 year highs. The recent population growths in duck populations can be attributed to CRP enrollment in the Prairie Pothole Region coupled with a four-year wet cycle.
Until recent changes in the 1996 farm bill which gave co-equal status to wildlife with soil erosion and water quality, CRP direct benefits to wildlife in the southeastern United States were minimal, at best. The first 10 years of the program saw most of the contracts call for planting high density loblolly or slash pine stands, or converting row crop agriculture lands to exotic cool season pasture grasses. Neither of these alternatives provides quality wildlife habitat even though they provide benefits from a soil erosion and water quality perspective. However, with the advent of the 1996 farm bill, we began to see major improvements for wildlife in all agriculture programs in the southeast, CRP included. Now CRP practice standards allow wildlife habitat management techniques to be incorporated into a landowners' conservation plan to aid in establishing or maintaining quality wildlife habitat while addressing soil erosion and water quality concerns. In the Southeast, landowners enrolling in CRP are encouraged to implement practices such as establishing native forbs and grasses through natural succession, thinning already established pine stands to improve habitat conditions, and utilize prescribed burning and light rotational discing as habitat maintenance practices. In fact, if a landowner is not planning on incorporating wildlife friendly management on acres offered for enrollment then his chances of being accepted into the program appropriately decrease due to the current application ranking system.
Other wildlife values connected to CRP in the Southeast will be realized through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs (CREP) which have been approved in Virginia and North Carolina and the Longleaf Pine Conservation Priority Area (CPA) which includes the Southeastern Coastal Plain stretching from Virginia to Louisiana. The three CREPS approved in the Southeast all have as a major objective the improvement of wildlife habitat. When completed these projects have the potential to positively affect more than 20,000,000 acres through the creation of more than 130,000 acres of wildlife habitat. The Longleaf Pine CPA, a wildlife habitat CPA, in its first year has enrolled more than 102,000 acres to reestablish the Longleaf Community, a shrinking plant community in North America, and a highly valuable wildlife habitat. This program has the potential to establish longleaf back to its former range.
Page 86 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In order to enhance the value of CRP to wildlife in the Southeast, FSA must continue to enforce the thinning of pine stands already established and maintain the status of wildlife as co-equal with soil and water. Also, incentives for the continuous sign-up should be increased to act as incentives for landowners to enroll. Field borders and center pivot corners should be eligible for the continuous sign-up, and natural succession should be allowed without having to plant anything in riparian buffer strips. The Association, along with several other conservation organizations, has recently sent a letter to Secretary Glickman, USDA, detailing several further recommendations to make the continuous CRP sign-up more attractive to agricultural landowners. A copy of that letter is provided for your reference.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the Association believes that no other conservation program has provided the quantity and quality of environmental benefits on agricultural lands as the popular CRP. In addition, this program has contributed to stability in the agricultural economy, and, as you know, payments under CRP have literally allowed small landowners to save the farm by providing money for property payments. We believe a CRP with an enhanced enrollment of 45 million acres can and will do more to achieve the objectives of long-term stability to the agricultural economy and long-term benefits for fish, wildlife, soil and water conservation. We strongly support H.R. 408 and urge your favorable consideration of that proposal, with serious consideration to making it a part of the next Congressional farm relief package.
Thank you again for the opportunity to share our perspectives on CRP. I would be pleased to address any questions you might have.
["The Official Committee record contains additional material here."