USDA Should Focus Regional Conservation Efforts on Soil HealthThu, 14 May 2020 08:10:43 CDT
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should make soil health a central priority of its Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which is designed to solve natural resource problems in rural areas. That is the message from the Izaak Walton League of America, one of America’s oldest conservation organizations, in comments filed with USDA Tuesday.
“Farmers, taxpayers, and rural communities all deserve a strong Regional Conservation Partnership Program that puts soil health at the center of conservation efforts,” said Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Program Director for the Izaak Walton League. “Many of the natural resource problems facing rural areas – polluted rivers and groundwater, flooding, soil erosion, loss of wildlife habitat – can be addressed by soil health practices on farms and ranches. Those same practices can help farmers reduce their input costs and improve their profitability, and that can help rural economies thrive.”
Hovorka added, “The program is designed to address regional problems like nutrients and sediment in the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, and Mississippi River; water supply in the Colorado River Basin; flooding and drought on the Great Plains; water quality in the Columbia River Basin and California Bay Delta; and loss of Longleaf Pine forest in the Southeast. Healthy soils can play an important role in solving the problems in each of these nationally designated priority areas, as well as state and local problems around the country.”
The League said USDA could improve the program by:
• Prioritizing soil health planning and testing, to support farmers working to understand the benefits of healthy soils on their farms.
• Offering incentives for farmers and ranchers to adopt bundles of soil health practices like winter cover crops, reduced tillage, diverse crop rotations, integrated pest management, and managed rotational grazing.
• Including soil health as a designated natural resource priority in each of the eight nationally designated priority areas, which together receive half of the program’s $300 million annual budget.
The League’s comments on the USDA Interim Rule are available at iwla.org/usda-comments.
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