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Ranking Member Boozman Opening Statement at Hearing to Review Conservation & Forestry Titles of the Farm Bill

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the hearing to review the conservation and forestry titles of the farm bill.

Good morning, thank you, Madam Chairwoman, for convening today’s hearing.

I welcome our witnesses, Chief Terry Cosby of the Natural Resources Conservation Services, Administrator Zach Ducheneaux of the Farm Service Agency and Associate Chief Angela Coleman of the U.S. Forest Service.

I am excited to have today’s hearing on conservation and forestry. Both of these issues are very important in the Natural State. Productive farms and productive forests benefit wildlife, the environment, the quality of life and the economy of rural Arkansas.

The farm bill conservation programs are successful because they are voluntary, incentive based and locally led. I view this reauthorization of the farm bill as an opportunity to renew our commitment to working lands conservation, where local resource concerns and producer focused programs are the priority. Conservation needs and the needs of our producers are as diverse as the crops they grow and the land they grow them on. Our programs must reflect this reality and provide the flexibility our farmers and ranchers need.

Washington prioritizing a limited set of practices or natural resource concerns would undermine the continued success of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s voluntary conservation programs. The prioritization of resource concerns must be left to the local level where producers decide how they can best address their unique and varied landscapes and needs. 

Cover crops might not work in dry climates but capturing water and preventing erosion are important resource practices farmers and ranchers can employ, and the funding and flexibility should be there for them to do so. Producers in Arkansas provide winter habitat in rice fields for migrating waterfowl. Seeing tens of thousands of birds all take wing from a flooded rice field is one of the most amazing experiences to behold. My farmers need the cost sharing necessary to level their fields and manage their water. Not only does this conserve resources and make the farmers more efficient, it also provides irreplaceable wildlife habitat.

While we must maintain the elements of our farm bill conservation programs that make them successful, we cannot take on risky proposals that endanger the safety net. Tying crop insurance to incentives for certain conservation practices – dictated by those in Washington DC – should be off the table so we can ensure this program continues to serve as a vital risk management tool for producers.

We must hear from our farmers about their priorities and find the resources necessary to properly and adequately fund them.

If there is a genuine interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon, there is no better place to do that than the forestry title through active forest management. The decision not to manage our forests is devastating to the environment as it increases the risk for catastrophic forest fires. In California alone, the 2020 fire season released approximately 127 million metric tons of carbon. In fact, the emissions from that single fire season in California released twice the tonnage of greenhouse gases the state had reduced through regulation since 2003.

There is tremendous potential in the conservation and forestry titles of the next farm bill.  I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on what additional authorities or flexibilities your agencies need to help modernize and streamline your efforts to keep our farmlands and forests working and healthy for generations to come.

I thank our witnesses for joining us today.