Panelists Laud Farm Bill Conservation Programs, Discuss Importance of Soil Health and Innovative Management Practices

Sep 18, 2014 Issues: Agriculture, Allegheny National Forest

Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, U.S. Representative Glenn 'GT' Thompson (PA-5), Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, held a public hearing to examine the benefits of promoting soil health in agriculture and rural America. Healthy soil is critical to help producers feed the world, protect the environment, and sustain our farms and rural communities. Congress recognized this after the nation suffered a devastating drought, which led to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. As a result, Congress established the Soil Conservation Service as a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1935. The agency was later renamed the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

The subcommittee heard from experts with USDA’s NRCS on the importance of promoting soil health in agriculture, including practices being employed by the agency through existing and new programs reauthorized or created under the 2014 Farm Bill, and producers and conservationists concerning innovative management techniques being employed on individual farms and private lands.
 
"Farmers are the original environmentalists and I am pleased to see so many farmers in Pennsylvania and across the country engaging in innovative practices to promote soil health. I am proud of this committee and the important work under the 2014 Farm Bill to improve and expand voluntary conservation programs, including in the area of soils,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Thompson. “I also want to thank the Natural Resources Conservation Service, including Chief Weller, for their tireless work to implement these programs and help our farmers and producers enhance conservation practices in this particular area. These are important tools that will enable agriculture to produce the food necessary for an increasing population on less acres, while assisting farmers and ranchers in positive stewardship of the land.”

The world’s population is projected to exceed nine billion people by 2050. According to the most recent National Resource Inventory published by USDA’s NRCS in 2010, the amount of cropland in production in the United States dropped by approximately 23 million acres between 1982 and 2007. These factors will combine to put additional pressure on producers to generate enough food to feed all Americans, as well as the world’s population in the coming decades.

"I appreciate GT and all of his efforts as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry during this Congress.  The work of the subcommittee laid the groundwork for an even stronger conservation title in the Agricultural Act of 2014,” stated House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas.  “I also appreciate the opportunity to discuss the topic of soil health.  Farmers will rightly tell you that next to their family, there is no greater asset than the soil on their farm.  It is a living entity that must be nurtured and taken care of.  This hearing provided important information to our members on the benefits of soil health and sound conservation practices."

The witness panel included Jason Weller, Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and a variety of agriculture stakeholders including Mr. Jim Harbach, Farm Manager, Schrack Farms, Loganton, Pennsylvania.

“Soil health management is a systems approach that brings together suites of conservation practices that minimize soil disturbance, diversify soil biota, and maintain living roots and soil cover year round," stated NRCS Chief Weller. "The conservation programs supported by the 2014 Farm Bill are making a crucial difference in helping producers start soil health management systems on their operations."

“Conservation programs have historically reacted to the resource concerns, instead of being proactive to address the source of the problem,” stated Mr. Harbach. “We need to start promoting proactive conservation instead of reactive conservation. NRCS has embraced soil health as one of their core programs.”

###