David Schemm: Farm Bill conservation programs are critical for wheat farmers
Cropping systems, climate and soils vary for each wheat farmer across the country. Conservation programs must reflect these differences, and conservation options for growers must change just as the landscape across the country changes.
I made this same argument to members of the Senate Agriculture Committee who held a hearing on June 29, 2017 to examine the 2018 Farm Bill’s conservation programs. The Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Sen. Pat Roberts, is in the process of reviewing USDA programs and will determine which programs will continue and what will be in the next Farm Bill. The Farm Bill’s Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Reserve Program are important to wheat growers and can improve their farm management practices. Wheat is grown in many states, both as a continuous cropping system or as part of a multi-year rotation. This requires us to maintain a diverse portfolio of conservation programs and practices that not only support the farmer, but also protect the land.
At the National Association of Wheat Growers, our members have prioritized working lands conservation programs in our discussions around the 2018 Farm Bill reauthorization. The Conservation Stewardship Program helps producers adopt conservation practices across their operations, including converting to direct seeding/no-till farming, improving irrigation water management and utilizing advanced crop protection tools. Water irrigation is a prominent issue for farmers in western Kansas. As a participant in CSP, I have been able to integrate better irrigation practices into my operation, which allow for efficient irrigation water use and improved wildlife habitat.
Through the Conservation Reserve Program, I have utilized both continuous and general sign-up options. Enrolling a larger area through a general sign-up and a smaller buffer strip through continuous sign-up were options that worked well for my farm. These measures improve water quality and control erosion, leading to healthier, more productive soil. CRP provides the flexibility for a farmer like me to participate in conservation programs, but also manage my cropping systems.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is another Farm Bill conservation program that is important to wheat growers. EQIP provides financial incentives for growers to undertake a certain conservation practice for a shorter-term contract, and can help producers create conservation plans such as nutrient management plans or grazing management plans.
Wheat farmers are focused on productivity and profitability, and a crucial element of maintaining both is being good stewards of the land. Assistance that’s offered through a suite of conservation options provides a backstop that allows growers to make investments in modern technology and try new conservation practices. These programs help growers integrate practices into their operations that improve soil health, improve water quality, result in more efficient irrigation water use and benefit wildlife. NAWG members are very supportive of Farm Bill conservation programs, and we encourage Congress and the Trump administration to retain the variety of conservation options the Farm Bill offers and to not make funding cuts to these programs.
David Schemm is the president of the National Association of Wheat Growers and a Kansas farmer.