Home Agenda USDA Conservation Vacancies Pose Biden Agenda Challenge

USDA Conservation Vacancies Pose Biden Agenda Challenge

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The trillion-dollar budget bill pushed by the Biden administration would inject billions of dollars into the Department of Agriculture’s conservation programs at a time when agency field staff are already at their wit’s end .

Staff shortages at the Natural Resources Conservation Department and other USDA agencies that work directly with farmers have plagued the department for several years, and in recent months officials have stepped up hiring.

Agriculture policy and conservation groups said the increased conservation funding in the Build Back Better Act underscores the need to continue to fill these gaps and may simply help USDA complete the job. The invoice includes $ 200 million for technical conservation assistance to NRCS, plus $ 100 million for related administrative costs.

“This is incredibly important. This is what will make the program work,” said Jeremy Peters, executive director of the National Association of Conservation Districts, which represents state and county councils that champion land stewardship. .

The NACD had pressured Congress to specifically fund technical assistance, Peters said. Department of Agriculture staff in county offices help farmers take action such as planting cover crops that hold the soil in the off season or when the land is not in production.

Cover crops are one of the practices specifically mentioned in the bill, which would create a new incentive of $ 25 an acre for farmers to plant them – and $ 5 an acre for farmland owners. , since the land in some places is rented. Many other practices through initiatives such as conservation stewardship and environmental quality incentive programs would also fall under the funding of the bill.

The NRCS has added about 1,400 employees in recent months, in a competitive job market, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. The budget bill, if enacted, could be a “great opportunity” to add more staff, although the extent of this outcome is not entirely clear, the coalition spokeswoman said. , Laura Zaks.

With 2,539 offices across the country, the NRCS is primarily staffed outside of Washington, DC.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said earlier this year that increasing staff at NRCS would be a top priority, along with rural development officers who are also mainly in field offices (Daily E&E, June 16). If the government is to get serious in tackling climate change, he said, a fully staffed conservation office will be needed.

“There are no better problem solvers, I don’t believe, in all of government than the good people who work at the NRCS,” Vilsack said at a Senate appropriations hearing in June. “There just aren’t enough of them.”

The ministry has also faced staff shortages in local agricultural service agency offices that work directly with producers. And two research agencies – the National Food and Agriculture Institute and the Economic Research Service – cut significant staff losses related to their move to Kansas City, Missouri during the Trump administration. (Green wire, October 5).

These agencies will face more work if Democrats’ focus on climate-smart agricultural research becomes law.

The ‘Build Back Better’ legislation would spend $ 2 billion on agricultural research, including $ 1 billion for facilities, which the Supporters of Agricultural Research group called “the first step towards building a resilient agricultural sector in the world. climate so that farmers and consumers can enjoy a bright future. “

Peters, of the National Association of Conservation Districts, called the release of the updated budget bill a “big step” towards strengthening programs. Where USDA offices are understaffed, he said, local conservation districts can help fill some of the needs for collaboration with growers.

While conservation programs enjoy bipartisan support, Republicans consistently oppose the Democratic proposal. Agriculture Committee Ranking Republican Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania complained to the House Rules Committee yesterday that the bill is too expensive and was designed out of the sight of the American public .

Thompson, a former chairman of the conservation subcommittee, said the bill, if passed, “would crush their livelihoods and burden future generations with debt and irreversible reach of government.”


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