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Agricultural News

Clay Pope Talks Farm Bill Progress and USDA's New Focus on Soil Health

Fri, 08 Nov 2013 15:52:36 CST

Clay Pope Talks Farm Bill Progress and USDA's New Focus on Soil Health
For the most part, says Clay Pope of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, conservation should not be a major roadblock to the passage of the 2013 farm bill that is currently in conference committee. While the language in both the House and the Senate versions of the bill is nearly similar, Pope says there is one sticking point that will have to be ironed out. He spoke recently with Radio Oklahoma Network's Ron Hays about conservation issues and he will appear on "In the Field" Saturday morning about 6:40 on News 9.

"I think the one issue that's probably out there that is in play yet is this idea of compliance on crop insurance. The Senate has taken the position that it would like it, the House doesn't want it. How that's going to come out I think still needs to be decided, but, by and large, we're really happy with the language that's in Title 2 right now and both the House and Senate versions. We're just wanting to see the work get done and finally bring this bill across the finish line and get something in place for the next five years so we can move forward."

While the farm bill has taken center stage for much of the last two years, the USDA has been working quietly on an initiative to promote soil health. Pope says it's a subject that is near and dear to every producer's heart and it's an initiative whose time has come.

"It's probably the most exciting thing we've seen in conservation in the last three decades. It's the idea of basically trying to have what we're calling the 'Brown Revolution.' We all know about the 'Green Revolution' which revolutionized agriculture and saved millions of lives worldwide: the introduction of hybrid seeds, the focus on improved genetics, fertilizer, doing things to improve yields worldwide. It was good and it stopped at a point. Now, we've got to move forward with the next stage, I believe, in production agriculture and that's the Brown Revolution. And what we're talking about is improving soil health."

Pope says that about 60 to 80 percent of the organic matter incorporated in soil in North America has been lost since it was initially plowed up. He says that studies show that each one-percent increase in organic material per acre equates to $700 worth of nutrients.

"It also triples the amount of water it can hold. And in Oklahoma that translates into a three-inch rain. That's how much additional moisture you can hold in the soil. And how do you do that? By practicing good conservation: strip till, no till, doing things to keep your cover on the ground. The use of cover crops. Taking highly-erodible land out of crop production and putting it back into grass."

By making use of cover crops, Pope says, we are also learning that that will increase subsequent yields. He says such practices also mitigate point-source pollution impacts and the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

"The environmentalists and those of us in production agriculture aren't always going to see eye to eye. And a lot of times we're just going to have to hook it up and fight. But this idea of soil health ought to be one place where we can come together and sing 'Kumbaya' around the fire because, really and truly, if we're going to feed a world of 9 billion by mid-century, we're going to have to do more and more with less land. This is the way to do it."



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