Healthy Fields and Farm Economies Act to strengthen federal conservation programs

The Healthy Fields and Farm Economies Act, a bipartisan bill introduced recently in the House by Representatives John Faso, R-NY, and Marcia Fudge, D-OH, will improve USDA conservation programs for American farmers and ensure the most efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars. Specifically, the bill strengthens federal conservation programs by authorizing and providing funding for the measurement, evaluation and reporting of USDA conservation program outcomes.

USDA invests billions of conservation dollars each year in programs that support farmers and ranchers in adopting conservation activities. These programs—including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and the Conservation Reserve Program—are utilized across millions of acres of land and help farmers to invest in soil health, air and water quality, water conservation and wildlife habitat.

“Farmers need programs and practices that they can rely on, particularly when it comes to conservation,” said Alyssa Charney, policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “The Healthy Fields and Farm Economies Act will ensure that American family farmers are getting the absolute best conservation programs and practice recommendations from USDA. By implementing these tracking and evaluation measures, Congress can make federal conservation programs more accountable to American taxpayers and better performing for American farmers. Thanks to this bill, USDA will finally be able to point to hard data showing just how successful conservation efforts have been.”

Federal conservation programs play a significant role in protecting and enhancing our shared natural resources, as well improving farms’ long-term sustainability. However, because USDA has historically lacked the ability to report on the conservation outcomes of these programs, they have increasingly been threatened with budget cuts and even wholesale elimination. With new evaluation and reporting tools in place, USDA will be able to prove the effectiveness of popular conservation programs; and when programs aren’t working well, they’ll be able to identify the issues and come up with targeted solutions quickly.

The Healthy Fields and Farm Economies Act will invest in farmers, ranchers, and our shared natural resources, while ensuring accountability to taxpayers who support these programs by:

Authorizing the Conservation Effects Assessment Project and expanding USDA’s ability to assess natural resource concerns through enhanced measurement, evaluation and reporting on conservation program outcomes.

Quantifying the environmental benefits of conservation practices in order to better build upon and improve program and practice performance.

Directing USDA to use up to one percent of funding available for new enrollments of farm bill conservation programs to support the measurement and evaluation process.

Requiring USDA to report on program progress to Congress and to the public, provided that individual data is aggregated to protect personally identifiable information.

Establishing a National Technical Committee composed of individuals with relevant technical and scientific expertise to assist NRCS in monitoring and evaluating conservation programs.

Authorizing USDA to implement cooperative agreements with qualifying federal, state, and local agencies, universities and colleges and NGOs to support implementation.

NSAC applauds Representatives Faso and Fudge for supporting farmers and ranchers through the Healthy Fields and Farm Economies Act and for investing in the improvement and protection of private lands conservation programs that are central to the long-term health of our nation’s natural resources. We look forward to working with these and other conservation leaders in Congress to include the provisions of the Healthy Fields and Farm Economies Act in the 2018 Farm Bill.