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Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Republican Leader Doug LaMalfa Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee Hearing: Title II Conservation Programs: Exploring Climate Smart Practices

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

The 2018 Farm Bill offered important environmental and resource benefits through USDA’s suite of voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs. The conservation title provides an estimated $6 billion per year to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners for the implementation of practices that truly work.

Through these voluntary programs, producers can improve soil health and water quality, better manage their lands, and incorporate innovations like increased energy-efficient farming practices.

Our conservation delivery system is a proven model that leverages significant funding and is a win-win for both producers and the environment.

Because of its effectiveness, NCRS’ conservation programs have been in the spotlight in recent years and has become a staple in ongoing climate discussions. While these programs generate countless on-farm benefits, they also directly result in carbon sequestration.

As we continue to dwell on climate-related policy, voluntary conservation does have an important role to play, but I think it is very important to recognize the great conservation work farmers and ranchers are already doing each and every day.

Despite the calls from some climate alarmists, the U.S. is already making great progress towards meeting carbon reduction goals. The United States generates less than 15 percent of the world’s anthropogenic carbon emissions and that number is expected to continue to decline in the coming decades.

Concurrently, U.S. farm productivity and management practices have increased dramatically over the past 70 years. Specifically, U.S. farm productivity has increased by 287 percent since 1948, while the inputs have remained relatively the same. 

In short, we’re producing much more food and fiber while using the same amount of resources we did generations ago.

Additionally, we need to recognize the considerable resources already provided by the Farm Bill to support voluntary conservation and not rush to unproven approaches that may not actually address the concern being made of climate or consider if it will benefit farmers and ranchers.

In addition to improving soil health, there are a variety of other existing agricultural practices and technologies that are just as beneficial and must be fully utilized. This includes increasing the deployment of precision agriculture to help reduce over-fertilization and runoff and adoption of technologies such as anaerobic digesters that convert livestock-generated methane to renewable natural gas.

Incorporating new technologies and innovative practices will reduce emissions, improve water and air quality, and provide new revenue for farmers and ranchers in the process.

U.S. agriculture is diverse. No singular solution will be appropriate to each crop, cropping system, or region. We must value multiple practices and be inclusive of all crops.

Opportunities in agriculture extend beyond soil health and cover crops. What works for corn in Iowa, will not necessarily work for wheat out West, or rice in the Mississippi Delta or Northern California.

We need to resist turning the Farm Bill conservation title into the climate title. We cannot allow one natural resource concern to completely overshadow others. These programs must continue to be voluntary which means we must offer practices that provide farmers choices.

Although forests are not the focus of today’s hearing, they must be part of the conversation. Our forests are natural carbon sinks and hold great potential for reducing emitted carbon and sequestering it. For example, finished wood products store carbon indefinitely.

By improving forest health and actively managing our forests, we can encourage healthier lands, prevent potential fires and the millions of acres of destruction, as well as the release of more carbon dioxide than all of California’s power.

During a recent House Appropriations Committee hearing, US Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen mentioned our forests are sequestering 14 percent of all US carbon emissions, and that number could be increased to 20 to 28 percent through more reforestation and restoration, greater forest resiliency, and the use of more forest products which store carbon. 

With that in mind, as we talk about climate and reducing carbon dioxide, I believe we must take a hard look at how we manage our forests and how we address the wildfire crisis.

2020 was the most devastating fire year we have on record and that includes especially significant fires in California. We must do more to help prevent small fires from unnecessarily becoming huge megafires that release enormous amounts of otherwise stored carbon dioxide.

Addressing wildfires is a crisis and an emergency we can no longer ignore or continue to kick down the road.

Thank you to all of our witnesses for taking time today out of your lives to provide testimony and have this conversation. As we consider the many stewardship proposals before Congress, and as this Committee begins thinking about the next Farm Bill, your input is invaluable and much appreciated.

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