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Agricultural News

Making the Most of the New Farm Law Tops OACD's 2014 Agenda, Clay Pope Says

Wed, 12 Mar 2014 11:19:07 CDT

Making the Most of the New Farm Law Tops OACD’s 2014 Agenda, Clay Pope Says
The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts finished its annual meeting recently and the group's executive director, Clay Pope, says they have a full plate for the next 12 months and beyond.

He spoke with Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays about some of those issues. (You can hear their conversation by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.)

Pope says they will spend a lot of their energy helping farmers and ranchers take advantage of the state and federal conservation programs that are out there to address soil erosion, water conservation, water quality and wildlife habitat. Many of those programs are changing due to the passage of the 2014 farm bill.

"We need to make sure our delivery system is as solid as it can be, help producers to understand what the changes in the law at the federal level are and them make sure we have the resources to make sure those dollars are getting on the ground and that we have the state dollars to match on the federal side."

One of the programs Pope says he will focus on is a two-to-one federal-to-state match on upstream flood control projects. Representative Frank Lucas was able to secure $250 million for the program and Pope says his association hopes to be able to capture some of those dollars to repair some of Oklahoma's aging flood control structures.

"We've got over 2,100 of them in the state. Over 1,000 of them are past their design life. Many of these structures, when we repair them, can be made into reservoirs. And, of course, with the water situation in Oklahoma, that's another thing that we're looking at."

There may be a possibility that some of these reservoirs would qualify as multi-purpose structures and would be eligible to make use of additional federal and municipal funds for their construction.

Pope says the drought is still very much on the minds of conservationists and Oklahomans in general. Some areas of the state have never gotten out of the drought and other portions are teetering on the brink. That raises issues of water policy and water quality to the forefront he says.

"We've had a lot of success protecting our water and we want to make sure we don't slide backwards on that."

Although the 2014 farm law streamlined and consolidated conservation programs, Pope says he was satisfied with the final form of the law.

"We've all got to do our part to tighten our belts to make sure we're being the best stewards we can be of the taxpayers' dollars and the resources that are entrusted to us by the general public.

"We're very happy with the language in the conservation title. You see the continued CSP program which is the biggest conservation program now in the United States. Oklahoma is one of the leading states in the nation for sign-ups for CSP. EQIP which is the flagship program of the conservation title as far as cost-share programs, that continues to be strong."

One of the major features of the federal conservation title in the new law is that it gives states some flexibility in allocating dollars according to the state's projected priorities. Popes says that flexibility is a welcome change from the top-down mandates of years past such as programs dealing with the Chesapeake Bay and the Mississippi River.

"In Oklahoma, we feel conservation works the best from the ground up, having grassroots, locally-led efforts where local conservation districts that are locally elected by those cooperators and serve as a voice of those cooperators-local folks making local decisions and having a voice in the process. That's key. And that's something, I think, was really pushed in this farm bill."

Water quality continues to improve in Oklahoma, Pope says. For the last two years in a row, Oklahoma has led the nation in nutrient reduction in its streams and rivers.

"We're optimistic we're going to see some good numbers again this year as far as overall nutrient reduction. We'll be announcing that later in March at Conservation Day at the state capitol. We haven't got all those numbers put together yet, but it looks good."

He said Oklahoma leads the nation in the reduction of non-point-source pollution and it has all been done with voluntary efforts.


Ron Hays talks with Clay Pope about the OACD's focus for the next 12 months.
right-click to download mp3


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