While USDA conservation programs accomplish many worthwhile goals, some programs also fund practices that help farmers but deliver little or no public benefit. For example, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program has helped farmers fund the expansion of large feedlots and purchase expensive center pivot irrigation systems that provide few environmental benefits.
► We believe conservation programs should only fund projects that deliver clear public conservation benefits, and should not fund practices that deliver primarily private benefits.
In the past, USDA has measured conservation program success by counting contract acres and dollars spent. Those don’t tell the real story of whether or not the programs are reducing polluted runoff, improving water quality, regenerating soil health, or boosting fish and wildlife numbers. More monitoring and evaluation is needed to understand how Farm Bill programs are working to solve the resource problems they are designed to address31.
USDA has also been unwilling to share information it collects, including data that would help researchers and conservation organizations evaluate program success, identify the links between conservation practices and crop insurance risk, and estimate the loss of native prairie.
Information on Conservation Stewardship Program contracts has been especially difficult to obtain. It is completely feasible to give the public information about the outcomes of programs and policies, including county-level data, without disclosing information about individual producers. USDA program data should be broadly available, while protecting the privacy of individuals as required by law.
► We support Congressional requirements that USDA better measure, assess, and report on the practices funded through Farm Bill conservation and other programs and evaluate and report on the actual soil conservation, water quality, wildlife, and other benefits they deliver.
► We support development of an Information Warehouse where USDA would be required to make information it collects readily available to researchers and the public in ways that protect the privacy of individuals.
For more information on the Farm Bill and the Izaak Walton League of America’s work to defend our soil, air, woods, waters and wildlife, contact us at 707 Conservation Lane, Gaithersburg, MD, 20878.