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Bipartisan bill aims to improve agricultural conservation practices

(The Center Square) – U.S. Senators from four states are working together on a bipartisan bill they hope will improve agricultural conservation practices.

U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota recently filed a bill to streamline the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s process for updating and adopting conservation practice standards they say will help farmers and ranchers “improve soil health, build resilience to climate impacts, and achieve their conservation goals,” according to a press release from Heinrich’s office.

The lawmakers think the bill will help ranchers and farmers voluntarily follow NRCS conservation practices. 

Heinrich said farmers need ways to make their land more resilient, and he thinks this would help. 

“Regenerative agriculture and soil health practices help farmers and producers make their working lands more resilient, something that is widely wanted and needed,” Heinrich said in the release. “As Congress negotiates the next Farm Bill, Republicans and Democrats agree that we must update the process for developing new conservation practice standards at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and make that process more transparent and accessible for all. By leveraging innovation happening in New Mexico and across the country, producers can build more resilience into their operations and make a real difference in our fight against climate change.”

Ernst said she supports the bill since she thinks it will help the long-term viability of farming in Iowa.

“Iowa’s ability to remain a powerhouse and leader in conservation is heavily determined by how efficiently we can improve and streamline the process for getting new technologies into farmers’ hands,” Ernst said in the release. “By boosting efforts to conserve vulnerable areas, we can promote positive habitat health, increase water quality, strengthen the health of our soil, and ultimately ensure that future generations also have the opportunity to farm.”

Marshall concurred and said government bureaucrats are making it difficult for farmers to access sound conservation practices.

“The current process for adopting and updating the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation practice standards (CPS) is flawed by bureaucratic processes that lack clear and consistent guidelines,” Marshall said in the release. “Our producers are rightfully frustrated by the federal government complicating their conservation efforts. We should always strive to make government agencies just as nimble and innovative as the farmers they serve. I’m proud to work on this bipartisan solution with my colleagues to ensure farmers have the tools necessary to support conservation efforts and help producers leave their land cleaner, safer, and healthier than they found it.”

Klobuchar also voiced her support for the legislation.

“Minnesota farmers have been long-time leaders in protecting soil and water quality,” Klobuchar said in the release. “That is why it is crucial that we have an effective and efficient process for conservation practices to be approved and implemented on the ground. This bipartisan legislation makes common sense improvements that will ensure our farmers have access to the latest tools to support conservation practices.”

The Streamlining Conservation Practice Standards Act has support from over 140 organizations, including Regenerate America/Kiss the Ground and the New Mexico Healthy Soils Working Group. 

The Streamlining Conservation Practice Standards Act would do the following, according to the release: 

  • Clarify the process for updating existing NRCS conservation practice standards (CPS) and establishing new CPS: Updates the review process for existing conservation practice standards to at least once every 5 years on a rolling basis and makes the process more transparent by providing the opportunity for public input. Requires the USDA to set up a new streamlined, publicly accessible process for establishing interim conservation practice standards and conservation practice standards, including a published timeline for review and a portal for public submission of conservation practices for consideration as an interim conservation practice standard.
  • Make CPS more transparent and accessible: Requires the USDA to increase transparency and provide more publicly available information about conservation practice standards, what data and scientific information must be considered in their establishment, and how the public can engage with the process, including how the public can engage State technical committees to consider interim conservation practice standards already in effect in other states.
  • Clarify one of the purposes of Conservation Innovation Grants: to help incorporate innovative approaches and new technologies into new and existing CPS.

One can read the proposed bill here.

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