Senator Roberts: Farm Bill Conservation Programs Need Streamlining, Improved Flexibility, Reduced Regs

WASHINGTON, DC –U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, today said the Conservation title of the 2012 Farm Bill should streamline programs while maintaining options for producers and eliminating burdensome regulations.

“A single program will not meet the needs of all producers, but we have gone too far in the other direction,” Roberts said. “We now have duplicative programs that have become more and more complicated. It’s an alphabet soup when I look at all of these programs. My goal during this Farm Bill process is to maintain options for producers while simplifying the programs for producers and those tasked with implementation.”

Senator Roberts made the remarks at a Senate Agriculture committee hearing on strengthening conservation in the 2012 Farm Bill. During the hearing, the committee heard testimonies from farmers throughout the country, including Mr. Dean Stoskopf, a wheat farmer from Hoisington, Kansas, who testified on the importance of the Conservation Reserve Program to Kansas.

The following are Sen. Roberts' remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you Madam Chairwoman. Today’s hearing is an important step in our Farm Bill process. I welcome Administrator Nelson and Chief White and look forward to their insight.

During our work last fall on the conservation title of the Farm Bill, I appreciated that both NRCS and FSA leaders made themselves available to our staff to answer technical questions. I also appreciate the long standing commitment of the agencies to detail staff to work through legislative provisions and the complex workings of the programs.

Let me stress again that good progress was made on a conservation title last fall, and I look forward to working with the chairwoman and all of the committee members to continue to refine that work. We have a solid starting point.

Our current conservation title provides a variety of program options for producers. These programs should be flexible to meet producer needs and guided by state & local priorities.

A single program will not meet the needs of all producers, but we have gone too far in the other direction. We now have duplicative programs that have become more and more complicated. It’s an alphabet soup when I look at all of these programs.

My goal during this Farm Bill process is to maintain options for producers while simplifying the programs for producers and those tasked with implementation.

One of the most important programs in this title is EQIP – the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. This program helps producers address environmental regulations. The assistance that USDA provides is important to help producers navigate a complex web of government mandates.

The number one concern I hear from producers is over regulation. Producers are repeatedly faced with layers of regulations that don’t make sense. Pesticide permits, child labor, waters of the U.S., dioxin, spilt milk, CAFO’s and the list goes on.

I see Dean and Mary Anne Stoskopf sitting in the hearing room from Hoisington, Kansas. Welcome to your nation’s capital and thank you for providing us with your perspective. Thank you as well, Dean, for your long standing service as a leader in both state and national producer organizations.

I don’t want to give away too much of what Dean will say, but he is going to talk about CRP and the importance of the program in Kansas – especially with the recent drought.

CRP is a vital program option for producers, but we need to allow producers to have choices. Out in the high plains, we want to make sure that soil stays on the farm. CRP can help, and I want to ensure that producers have that option in coming years.

High commodity prices and new technology might change participation in the program, but it is still an important option to help protect highly erodible soils.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today and using their insight to help guide our work. The Conservation title has changed drastically over the last 15 years both in number and complexity of programs and in the size of the budget. We are spending more than twice what we did back in 2001 for conservation programs and conservation spending is predicted to top commodity title spending in the next few years.

You cannot have this type of growth without learning some lessons about what is working and what is not…how producers are reacting to programs…and the capability of the Department to implement programs quickly.

We are in a difficult budget situation in crafting this Farm Bill and we must look at reducing program overlap and focus on what works. The input from today’s panels will guide us.

-30-

Press Contact

Sarah Little (202) 224-4774