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Reps. Fudge, Thompson Introduce Legislation to Improve Conservation Outcomes

WASHINGTON – Today, Reps. Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11) and Glenn G.T. Thompson (PA-15) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a process through which it could measure, evaluate and report on conservation program outcomes.  The Farmer-Driven Conservation Outcomes Act of 2020 would provide USDA with the tools and authority to quantify the environmental benefits of conservation activities in order to demonstrate their impact and further improve program performance.  U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

Each year, USDA invests billions of dollars in conservation through a number of Farm Bill programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  These programs help farmers maintain productive and sustainable fields, protect at-risk and marginal lands from degradation and invest in our shared natural resources.

“As Ohio and states across the Great Lakes region continue to face significant environmental challenges, conservation programs play an increasingly important role in addressing climate change, protecting water quality and improving soil health,” said Rep. Fudge. “To increase farm productivity and protect environmental health, USDA must collect and evaluate data on the effectiveness of conservation practices and share its findings with farmers.  I am proud to introduce this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to establish new forms of data measurement and reporting that will strengthen our nation’s conservation efforts.”

“Voluntary conservation programs provide farmers and ranchers important tools to incorporate management practices that produce lasting environmental benefits,” said Rep. Thompson.  “While Pennsylvania continues to see great improvement in soil and water health, additional data will help identify outcomes and meet our long-term conservation goals.  I am thankful for the partnership of our country’s farmers and ranchers, who provide the food, fiber and energy that all Americans rely upon every day.”

“Farmers are leading stewards of the land, and they can and must be part of the solution when it comes to mitigating climate change and improving water quality,” said Senator Casey. “In order to be able to tell the story of farmers’ conservation efforts, as well as to demonstrate the return on taxpayer investment, it is essential that we be able to accurately measure outcomes, including metrics like how many tons of carbon farmers are sequestering in the soil and how much nitrogen they are keeping out of our nation’s waterways.  We also need to be able to evaluate and improve program and practice effectiveness to help farmers mitigate climate change, improve water quality and protect other critical natural resources.  I am glad to introduce the Farmer-Driven Conservation Outcomes Act with Senator Capito to advance these critical goals.”

“West Virginia has made great strides in improving its water quality and land management practices, benefitting ecosystems throughout the state and better protecting the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay, but there remains much work to be done.  Over the years, the number of conservation programs across departments and agencies have proliferated, and there has never been a full accounting of their individual efficacy.  Assessing these programs is needed to ensure taxpayers are receiving the best bang for the buck for their investments as well as to confirm federal conservation initiatives are having their intended effects in benefitting the environment.  I am pleased to work across the aisle with Senator Casey to introduce this legislation to better inform the public and policymakers about best practices in our agricultural conservation efforts – this is just the sort of good governance policies we need more of,” Senator Capito said.

The Farmer-Driven Conservation Outcomes Act of 2020 is endorsed by the following organizations: American Farmland Trust, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, National Young Farmers Coalition, R Street and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Additional original cosponsors in the House include: Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Rep. Antonio Delgado (NY-19), and Rep. Kim Schrier (WA-8).