Voluntary, Incentive-Based Conservation is the First Line of Defense Against Burdensome Regulation

June 16, 2016

Editor’s Note: Farm Policy Facts supports sharing opinion pieces from a variety of voices that highlight the challenges American farmers face. This week, we are pleased to publish a guest editorial on why the farm bill is critical for growing our food and fiber supply while also protecting our natural resources.

By: Pelham Straughn

Conservation advocates and farm groups alike believe locally‐led, voluntary, incentive‐based conservation efforts is the model for long‐term collaborative success for environmental gains on private agricultural land. Farmers and ranchers are achieving measurable results across the natural resources spectrum because of the investment made in the 2014 Farm Bill along with technical assistance from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

These results are crucial as we find ways to increase agricultural production, safeguard our environment, protect our wildlife, and ensure economic vitality for farmers and ranchers, all while confronting the realities of increasingly erratic weather and a changing consumer. The late Dr. Norman Borlaug predicted that to feed the growing global population, we would need to produce as much food in the next forty years as we have in the past ten thousand years — combined.

So how do we meet this challenge?

As Chairman Conaway and Chairman Roberts recently wrote in an op-ed, “we can work with our nation’s farmers and ranchers in helping them meet this challenge by funding innovative research and sharing in the cost of both time‐tested and cutting‐edge conservation practices.”

Without question, keeping agricultural land productive through research and technological advances will be critical to meeting global food demand while at the same time we must protect the health and resilience of our environment through proven practices and innovative approaches.

Innovative approaches from Congress, the Administration and the private sector have the potential to produce exponential gains in the protection of our natural resources. Initiatives like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program that Congress authorized in the Agricultural Act of 2014 encourages private sector engagement, leverages funds and targets resource concerns.

We are making a difference through the Working Lands for Wildlife Program and other initiatives that target specific geographic areas and specific resource concerns that allow a more holistic approach across landscapes and watersheds. Key examples of this approach are the Sage Grouse Initiative and the Western Lake Erie Basin Initiative.

The private sector has developed innovative tools to help producers make conservation decisions that not only help the environment, but also enable farmers to use inputs more efficiently and save money. These tools are incredibly exciting for how they can grow the acceptance rate of conservation practices. Through all of this, we also must promote good planning. Conservation planning and technical assistance are the backbone of conservation initiatives and without them most of the farm bill’s conservation title financial assistance would be for naught.

Farm and conservation groups share the same goal: enabling our agricultural producers to grow the food and fiber to meet a growing world demand while also supporting their efforts to pass on their farms to the next generation more productive and sustainable. Ultimately, we need to look at the farm bill as a whole as the overall safety net that protects both farmers and the environment.

The theme of over‐regulation is one that most farm groups and a majority in Congress can agree on. If we all focused on time-tested and cutting-edge conservation practices for farmers so they can continue to be a part of the solution to our environmental problems, perhaps we could avoid the need for regulations entirely or at least minimize the regulatory burden on agricultural producers.

Indeed, a concerted effort across all advocacy groups will be needed to ensure Congress prioritizes the locally-led, voluntary, incentive-based conservation model and invests in it accordingly.

Pelham Straughn is a partner and co-founder of the 9b Group.