Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, continued her efforts to make agriculture programs more accountable and cost-effective while helping farmers and small business owners create agriculture jobs. Stabenow today convened an Agriculture Committee hearing to examine federal conservation programs and explore ways to streamline initiatives to save billions of dollars.
Last year, Senator Stabenow worked with other agriculture leaders to develop a plan to consolidate 23 conservation programs into just 13, while maintaining the same conservation tools currently available-and in some cases strengthening them. For example, by making conservation programs more efficient, the plan increased support for efforts to protect the Great Lakes and other critical watersheds while still saving billions overall. Today's hearing continued to examine ways to improve conservation initiatives to help create agriculture jobs and reduce the deficit.
"By increasing accountability and reducing duplication we can save taxpayer dollars while still strengthening initiatives that help farmers and businesses create Michigan agriculture jobs," said Chairwoman Stabenow. "Combining programs that have similar goals produces billions of dollars in savings so we can reinvest in top priorities like Great Lakes protection and also reduce the deficit. We've made a lot of progress finding bipartisan ways to make programs smarter and we must continue to do that."
Stabenow's original plan to consolidate conservation programs was part of a broader set of bipartisan recommendations to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (commonly known as the deficit reduction "super committee"), a plan that achieved $23 billion in cuts in Agriculture programs while strengthening key measures that help create Michigan agriculture jobs. While other congressional committees submitted separate Republican and Democratic recommendations to the super committee, Stabenow was able to bring leaders from both parties together to make Agriculture the only committee on all of Capitol Hill to develop a detailed bipartisan, bicameral plan for deficit reduction in its area of the budget.
Michigan witness Becky Humphries of Ducks Unlimited praised Chairwoman Stabenow's efforts to strengthen conservation programs last year, and further pressed the need to include similar provisions in the 2012 Farm Bill.
"Farmers and ranchers, conservationists and sportsmen, and all citizens have much to gain from successful, sustainable farming that conserves soil, water and wildlife," Humphries said. "The regional partnership program developed in the Super Committee report is a great idea that needs to find its way in this next Farm Bill. Regional partnerships fueled by local diverse interest groups and supported by federal, state and private funders, are a key to accomplish watershed approaches and solutions that will yield a good farm economy and a healthy sustainable environment."
A letter signed by more than 600 groups this week thanked Chairwoman Stabenow, along with the three other agriculture leaders she worked with in developing a bipartisan plan to streamline conservation programs, for their leadership on strengthening the conservation title of the Farm Bill. "The conservation efforts in the Farm Bill are critical to a strong economy, healthy and productive rural lands and vibrant communities," the conservation groups' letter said. "We appreciate the leadership of the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees on this issue." A letter from last week signed by the major commodity groups echoed the same sentiment.
Additional witnesses at the hearing included Chief Dave White, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mr. Bruce Nelson, Administrator, Farm Service Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Mr. Jeff Trandahl, Executive Director and CEO, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; Mr. Dean Stoskopf, Hoisington, Kansas Wheat Farmer, Stoskopf Farms; Mr. Carl Mattson, Chester, MT Farmer, Mattson Farms; Mr. Darrel Mosel, Gaylord, MN Farmer, Darrel Mosel Farm; and, Mr. Earl Garber, First Vice President, National Association of Conservation Districts.
An archived webcast of the hearing is available for viewing on the Agriculture Committee's website at http://ag.senate.gov.