This morning (February 28), the House Committee on Agriculture’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee held a hearing to solicit feedback from rural America on conservation policy ahead of constructing the 2018 Farm Bill. USA Rice was invited to provide a witness to testify and Timothy Gertson, Texas rice farmer, graduate of the Rice Leadership Program, and member of the USA Rice Federation and USA Rice Farmers Board of Directors was tapped to represent the industry.
“The Conservation Title of most farm bills is typically not the most contentious but has steadily grown to absorb a larger portion of the legislation’s overall budget, making it look ripe for cuts,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward.
“But the investment in voluntary working lands conservation programs – the mission of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service – is vital to the future not just of agriculture, but of the planet. Many groups in agriculture, including USA Rice, will stand together to fight to protect this investment in our future.”
Gertson credits the rice industry’s “unique relationship with waterfowl” as one of the reasons rice farmers are by default, some of the best stewards of the environment and said the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership “could be used as the model for commodity and wildlife groups working together going forward.”
Gertson’s testimony focused on the effectiveness of the “workhorses” of NRCS working lands programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and their economic benefits. “With working lands programs the land is still in production, so the economic drivers of small communities are still working, unlike some programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that pay farmers not to grow a crop,” he said.
“The [EQIP] practices I have put into place over the years have helped make my land more resilient to the multi-year drought we experienced a few years ago,” Gertson continued. “These conservation practices have helped me stay in business over the course of this depressed farm economy.”
And when a community’s farmers stay in business, so does the community. “The revenue generated from my farm is reinvested in inputs for the following year and ends up in the hands of other small, local businesses,” he said. “Small towns like mine rely on the agriculture industry for jobs and investment or they would disappear.”
Aside from asking for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to be reauthorized and the removal of several regulatory provisions that deincentivize conservation, the continuity of Gertson’s operation was a major concern.
“My boys want to be farmers just like dad and someday farm the same land our family has been working for the last 108 years. But without being able to make a living for my family and maintain the natural resources to keep my land in production, there won’t be anything left to hand to the sixth generation,” he said.
“I am here to ensure that this Subcommittee fights to maintain Conservation Title funding and important working lands program investments so my children can play a part in feeding this great nation,” concluded Gertson.