Hassell, Executive Director
Technology Information Center
Association of Conservation Districts
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
to Conservation Programs in the Farm Bill
morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am John Hassell,
executive director of the Conservation Technology Information Center,
commonly known as CTIC. Established in 1982 by a group of agribusiness,
governmental agency and agricultural association representatives, CTIC
functions as an off-site branch of the National Association of
Conservation Districts (NACD).
operates under the charter of NACD, which is a nonprofit conservation
organization, representing the nation’s nearly 3,000 conservation
districts. An independent 25-member board, with input from 9 cooperating
federal agencies, administers CTIC’s public/private partnership.
The CTIC Board of Directors comprises representatives from
agribusiness, farm press, agricultural associations, conservation groups
as well as independent agricultural producers.
CTIC is a self-supporting organization with resources derived
from corporate, institutional and individual memberships, agency funds,
foundations and other sources. CTIC’s mission is to develop
partnerships that promote the enhancement of soil and water quality by
equipping agriculture with realistic, affordable and integrated
solutions. Located at Purdue University Research Park, CTIC receives
in-kind support from the Indiana land grant university as well as other
land grant and international institutions.
has long been promoting the adoption of conservation tillage and residue
management. During the late 1980s and mid-1990s, CTIC supported the 1985
Farm Bill by implementing a national promotion of conservation tillage
as a means to reducing soil erosion on agricultural croplands.
CTIC began operation in 1983, 10 percent of the nation’s cropland used
some form of conservation tillage, or cropland systems that leave about
one-third of the soil covered with crop residue after planting. CTIC and
its partners established a national Crop Residue Management (CRM)
initiative to help producers implement their conservation compliance
plans, which were required for producers to remain eligible for federal
farm program benefits. Adoption of conservation tillage, especially
no-till (where residue is undisturbed until planting), steadily
increased as producers sought farming techniques for saving soil,
improving efficiency and improving their bottom line.
More than 75 percent of compliance plans included residue
management because of its economically efficient method of reducing soil
losses from cropland.
CRM initiative was a success. No-till adoption increased 125 percent
from 1990 to 1994. In addition, as conservation tillage adoption
increased, soil erosion decreased.
The initiative succeeded because: (1) the public/private
partnership work toward a common goal, (2) new technology enabled
successful no-till cropping systems and (3) a national marketing
campaign delivered a consistent message about the benefits of crop
1. Soil loss decreased as conservation tillage adoption increased from
1987 to 1994. Since then, both soil loss and conservation tillage levels
have changed little. Sources: Soil loss data from NRCS National
Resources Inventory, 2000. Conservation Tillage data from CTIC National
Crop Residue Management Survey, 2001.
2. Conservation tillage adoption in the United States has leveled off in
the last five years. Source: Conservation Tillage data from CTIC
National Crop Residue Management Survey, 2001.
the CTIC partnership ended the CRM initiative, both conservation tillage
adoption and soil erosion reduction leveled off, showing minimal
increase in the last five years (see Figure 1). Conservation tillage
usage in 2000 was 36.6 percent of total cropland acres (see Figure 2).
of CTIC’s principal roles is providing scientifically accurate and
credible information on various conservation technologies to the people
and entities that influence farm management decisions. As a technology
transfer center, CTIC reviews and communicates new research,
technologies and innovative approaches and connects the people who
practice conservation on the ground with those specialists who can help
would like to present to you today information concerning challenges
facing agriculture, a campaign that has been initiated by CTIC that all
sectors of agriculture can embrace, and recommendations for the next
generation of Farm Bill conservation programs.
Challenges Facing Agriculture
Issues. According to the 1998 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
national 305(b) report on the quality of the nation’s water resources,
a majority of states name agriculture as the leading source of nonpoint
source (NPS) pollution and identify sediment, nutrients, pesticides,
salts and pathogens as agriculture-related pollutants that affect water
reported that approximately one-third of monitored river miles, lake
areas and other water bodies do not fully support their designated uses.
1997 National Resources Inventory reported an excessive erosion rate of
nearly 12 tons an acre on 112 million acres of cropland (1.3 billion
tons of soil lost a year). Of
those 112 million acres, more than 60 million are highly erodible
cropland and nearly 52 million acres are non-highly erodible cropland.
Eroding cropland sends sediment and attached pesticides or nutrients to
water bodies, affecting water quality.
Although 50 percent of cropland acres are suitable for some form
of conservation tillage to mitigate soil loss, no-till is used on 17.5
percent and continuous no-till (a no-till system used for more than five
years) is used on only 7-10 percent of total cropland acres.
topsoil also carries with it nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrate,
to nearby waterways. Excessive
phosphorus in fresh water bodies can lead to algal blooms, fish kills
and unhealthy streams and lakes. Soils
that receive excessive manure application, which increases soil
phosphorus levels, are subject to soluble phosphorus loss. In addition,
excessive phosphorus levels are thought to play a role in the
“Pfeisteria” pathogenic outbreaks experienced in recent years.
a water-soluble nutrient, can be transported by surface runoff,
subsurface drains, or as leachate.
Consequently, nitrate can be a problem in both surface waters and
in groundwater. Some water
bodies used as drinking water sources experience regular drinking water
warnings when nitrate levels exceed the safe drinking water standard.
Excessive nitrate also can impact fish and wildlife beneficial
uses of streams and lakes and has been identified as the primary
nutrient responsible for the hypoxic “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of
environmental and regulatory issues facing agricultural producers
include Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), Comprehensive Nutrient
Management Plans (CNMPs), source water protection and global warming.
NPS pollution programs and agriculture conservation programs exist, few
if any address all problems and most lack adequate funds.
low commodity prices have decreased profits for many producers.
Producers also are paying increasingly more for fuel and nitrogen
supports, which could be phased out by 2002, continue in record
quantities. Meanwhile, many medium-sized farms have been forced to
close, in most cases as part of farm consolidation. Although alternative
management options exist, many producers resist changing their operation
because of perceived financial, managerial and social risks. In global
markets, the world food supply surplus and the Asian economic decline
reduced exports and lowered prices.
economic challenges and complicated environmental issues clearly
indicate that America’s agriculture needs a new direction, one that
institutionalizes conservation into farm management without compromising
profitability or long-term sustainability.
As we begin to discuss revisions to the current Farm Bill, we
must address the environmental issues facing our nation, while attending
to the economic concerns of our farming community.
a New Direction: Core 4
National Research Council’s 1993 recommendations in “Soil and Water
Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture,” defined four broad opportunities
for preventing soil degradation and water pollution while sustaining a
profitable agricultural sector. The
council recommended that successful programs would do the following:
and enhance soil quality as the first fundamental step to
the resistance of farming systems to erosion and runoff,
nutrient, pesticide, and irrigation use efficiency, and
greater use of field and landscape buffer zones.
the Council’s call for a national policy that included all four
elements, CTIC led more than 50 national partners in the development of
a new approach to managing agricultural operations. In
the late 1990s, CTIC commissioned market research surveys to test the
concept with growers, livestock producers and information multipliers -
the agricultural specialists helping producers make management
decisions. The research recommended that any attempt to change
agricultural management practices should:
conservation as a unified system;
both the social responsibility of the producer regarding
environmental management and the economic benefits of a system of
complementary practices; and
that combining environmental management with profitability can
result in better, more affordable consumer goods and a better
future for the producer, the family and the community.
recommendations from the National Research Council and America’s
agricultural community, CTIC and its partners designed an approach to
agricultural management that protects and improves the land while
addressing on-farm profits. This innovative method considers
productivity and conservation equally; it enables farmers to reclaim
their position as America's original environmental stewards while
protecting their livelihood; and it involves all sectors of agriculture,
including government, industry and farmers. This new approach is called
Core 4 Conservation.
goals of Core 4 Conservation -- Better Soil, Cleaner Water, Greater
Profits and a Brighter Future --
are based in common sense. Promoting these goals demonstrates our
recognition of the inextricable link between profitability and
environmental protection in modern agriculture, something past federal
programs have not always accomplished. Improving our nation's soil and
water resources - the raw materials of agriculture - enables
producers to realize short-term benefits as well as long-term
sustainability of their operations. The Core 4 Conservation approach
helps producers realize productive, profitable land operations today and
increases the likelihood that the operation can be passed on to their
the principles of Core 4 Conservation, producers implement a system
of land treatment practices. This systems approach combines several
appropriate conservation practices to maximize operation efficiency,
minimize costly inputs, and achieve optimal results, both in
terms of environmental stewardship and profitability. Practices that may
be used in a Core 4 Conservation system include conservation tillage,
crop nutrient management, pest management (Integrated Pest Management)
conservation buffers, water management (including irrigation,
conservation, and tile drainage), and other site-specific practices.
Working with local advisors, including conservation district personnel,
district conservationists, extension agents, certified crop advisors and
others, producers select appropriate conservation practices and design a
site-specific system that minimizes soil erosion, enhances water
infiltration and retention, filters pollution from runoff, and more
efficiently manages inputs to increase profits.
and other experts estimate that this approach can reduce NPS pollution
from cropland by as much as 80 percent. For example, no-till reduces
soil erosion by up to 90 percent and pesticide runoff by up to 70
percent when compared to a more traditional, intensive tillage system.
No-till has also been estimated to increase soil carbon by up to 20
buffers, as a secondary practice used in the systems approach, remove 50
percent or more of nutrients and pesticides and 75 percent or more of
sediment in runoff.
want to emphasize that environmental benefits alone do not make Core 4
Conservation a truly innovative approach. With Core 4 Conservation
systems, producers can, with assistance from local advisors, develop a
management plan that considers their local constraints, including farm
size, management capability and financial condition. In this way, the
resulting design is a locally led system that meets economic needs as
well as conservation goals.
benefit economically with Core 4 Conservation as well. For example, on a
2,000-acre farm using 100 percent no-till, fuel savings could be 3.6
gallons per acre or 7,200 gallons in a year, according to Purdue
University’s “Energy Requirements for Various Tillage-Planting
Systems.” That same farm would have improved soil quality and, as a
result, may realize higher yields. Plus, with a more diversified crop
rotation, producers can increase yields and/or profits and extend their
production. Some farmers are capitalizing on their conservation
practices by marketing their “green”/environmentally friendly
production methods and selling crops at premium prices.
Core 4 Conservation approach encourages voluntary participation to
increase conservation in the countryside. Demonstrating that this
approach is as at least as profitable as traditional methods enhances
participation rates. Core 4 Conservation is flexible, locally led and
site-specific. It can address multiple objectives yet is founded in
common sense and is comprised of elements with which the typical
producer is already familiar.
Evolution of Farm Management Plans
past government efforts emphasized using farm conservation plans to meet
its own program requirements, rather than the needs of the overall farm
operation. As a result, crop production plans and conservation plans
often did not complement one another. The producer was left asking the
question: Which plan do I implement – the conservation practices or
the production recommendations?
whether actual and perceived, discourage many producers from trying new
farming techniques or enrolling in conservation programs. New equipment,
for example, may need to be purchased to implement some practices.
If a producer changes from conventional tillage to a conservation
tillage system, he/she may need to spend between $40,000 and $100,000 on
new equipment. That’s a big risk for anyone to take. Furthermore,
producers may question the validity of such an investment if they doubt
that the new practice will increase yields. Turning cropland areas to
buffer zones means taking land out of production, and that brings into
question the long-term economic implications of reducing productive
acres. Only producers with adequate resources and a willingness to take
risks will make significant changes in their farming operation.
Unfortunately, these innovators and early adopters represent only a
small section of the agricultural community.
vast majority of producers, including mainstream and the late adopters,
find little incentive in existing conservation programs (other than
CRP). Too few cost share dollars plus conflicting information from input
management advisors creates a risk that outweighs the rewards. These
producers require more assurances or incentives before they will abandon
traditional farming methods and adopt conservation practices.
New Approach Appeals to Agriculture
tying production to conservation, Core 4 Conservation addresses many of
the risks that prevent producers from making changes in their
4 Conservation engages the public/private partnership in a united effort
to meet short-term and long-term goals. It recognizes that no two
producers have the same operation, and every producer will have
different needs when changing their operation to more widely incorporate
conservation practices. Most producers will make one or two changes in a
year and then carefully
assess risks and results before taking the next step. One plan or one
program, therefore, will not meet every producer's needs.
credible and reliable support from local advisors, producers can create
a long-term vision for their operation, both economically and
environmentally. Instead of sifting through numerous programs and lists
of requirements, producers and their advisors select those conservation
practices that best address the production/conservation interactions of
production agriculture and apply them as a system. Instead of trying to
fit the sometimes demanding criteria of governmental programs, more
producers will voluntarily apply conservation practices as a Core 4
Conservation system to produce food, fiber and energy while protecting
describing Core 4 Conservation, I have presented a banner for all
agriculture to rally under. Who can argue with Better Soil, Cleaner
Water, Greater Profits and a Brighter Future? This innovative approach
also complements recommendations for the next generation Farm Bill,
which propose incentives for adoption of conservation practices. In
addition, national endorsement of Core 4 Conservation would
simultaneously promote the conservation goals of the next generation
Farm Bill. CTIC is strategically suited to promote adoption of
conservation systems through its extensive public/private partnership
network and to replicate its successful efforts with conservation
tillage adoption increase in the early 1990s.
a participant in the NACD Farm Bill Task Force, CTIC contributed the
Core 4 Conservation philosophy to the task force’s recommendations for
the conservation title of the next Farm Bill. NACD convened the task
force, which includes public and private sector representatives, in
January 1999 and published its final report, “Vision for Conservation
in the 2002 Farm Bill,” in January 2001.
task force recommendations are a vehicle for reaching the Core 4
Conservation goals and linking profitability and environmental
protection in modern agriculture.
and its Board of Directors support the following recommendations of the
NACD Farm Bill Task Force. All Farm Bill conservation programs should:
voluntary, incentive-driven programs to help private landowners and
managers protect our soil, water, wildlife and related resources;
local involvement in setting priorities, developing policies and
carrying out programs;
science-based technology in making conservation decisions,
including those for determining accountability and establishing
technical assistance; and
to all Americans the value of conservation practices in enhancing
quality of life, restoring air and watershed health, and
contributing to safe and affordable food and fiber.
its work, the task force identified a major shortcoming in existing
conservation programs: They often penalize producers that already
practice conservation by excluding them from rewards for the public
benefits they provide. Based on that, the task force searched for ways
to provide incentives for all producers who practice good
stewardship. What emerged after spending many hours examining the
current structure and operation of our nation’s conservation programs
was the idea for a new incentives
approach that would encourage even more producers to practice
task force recommends a new Conservation Incentives Program (CIP),
similar in many respects to Senator Harkin’s proposal, that would
reward producers who apply and maintain conservation practices on their
lands. The level of reward would depend upon the extent and complexity
of the conservation systems installed and/or maintained by the producer.
Inclusive. CIP would be open to all farmers and ranchers, including
livestock producers, who implement a Core 4 Conservation system of land
treatment practices. For example, a producer using a system of grazing
land management, irrigation water management, and nutrient management
using grass waterways, would be eligible for this proposed incentive
Led. The task force envisions CIP as primarily locally driven, with
conservation districts certifying that a producer has, in fact,
implemented a comprehensive system of conservation practices.
Conservation districts also would determine the level of payment a
producer would receive. Even though determined locally, the level of
benefits received should be within the context of general national
guidelines. And, in order to ensure accountability, these payments would
not be made until the local district has certified that the system of
practices has been implemented.
and Economic Benefits.
By reaching far more producers than current natural resource programs, the
Conservation Incentives Program would not only provide widespread
environmental benefits and quality of life improvements for all
citizens, it also would provide additional financial security for the
nation’s agricultural producers, including limited resource and
minority producers. The proposed program echoes Core 4 Conservation’s
commitment to linking profitability with environmental protection.
of local incentive-based conservation programs suggest that a
government-supported national conservation incentive program would
realize substantial economic returns. For example, by investing a few
hundred million dollars in conservation measures in upstream watersheds
above New York City, the city saved an estimated $8 billion by
eliminating the need for costly new drinking water filtration equipment
and systems. In another example, the $100 million spent annually on the
NRCS small watershed protection and flood prevention program saves about
a billion dollars in prevented flood damages each year. This program
includes only a small percentage of the nation’s total watersheds.
Decreased need for dredging navigable waterways, reduced costs for road
maintenance and stormwater management and other economic returns will be
multiplied several fold with a new program that reaches all lands and
By relying on state and local governments to provide program
leadership, CIP and Core 4 Conservation will result in better
coordination of national conservation efforts. Core 4 Conservation is
the vision all of agriculture – public and private interests
- can share. CIP potentially could replace many, if not all, of
the current conservation programs. This more holistic approach would not
only clarify the program requirements, but also streamline the
enrollment process, reduce paperwork and more efficiently use government
need for conservation compliance efforts also could be significantly
reduced, if not eliminated, because producers would likely go beyond
minimum conservation objectives in order to receive greater rewards.
With fewer regulatory components, producers would have strong incentives
to practice good stewardship behavior. CIP would be far more
cost-effective than today’s mixed bag of narrowly focused programs.
task force recommends that if current conservation programs are
reauthorized, they receive new levels of funding.
Each was considered to be beneficial and complementary of the
recommended CIP program.
The best intended
programs are doomed to fail without including a mechanism for
Conservation Technical Assistance Program, delivered through local
conservation districts to cooperators and other land users, is the
nation’s foremost private lands conservation and water quality
pollution prevention program. It provides landowners and operators with
much needed help in planning and applying conservation treatments to
control erosion and improve the quantity and quality of soil resources;
improve and conserve water; enhance fish and wildlife habitat; conserve
energy; improve woodland, pasture and range conditions; and protect and
enhance wetlands. Many federal, state, and local agencies also rely upon
the technical expertise unique to NRCS to carry out other conservation
programs that complement the NRCS effort not only in the agricultural
areas, but in rural, suburban and urban communities as well.
believe that the federal government must provide a basic level of
technical assistance funding to maintain its commitment to support
locally led conservation initiatives that complement federal efforts to
ensure a safe and productive environment. The federal technical presence
that NRCS provides is vital to ensuring that sound technical standards
are maintained in our nation’s conservation programs. It is also
critical in the on-the-ground implementation of needed conservation
Farm Bill is one of the most important vehicles in providing landowners
and managers with guidance and assistance in protecting and enhancing
the nation’s natural resources. The conservation title of the next
Farm Bill presents a tremendous opportunity to expand the public/private
partnerships that energize America’s conservation efforts. The vision
and recommendations outlined above can become the platform for launching
the nation’s private lands conservation efforts to a bold new level.
It will not be an easy undertaking to put this program and delivery
system in place. It will require involvement and commitment from the
entire conservation and agricultural communities. By working together,
however, we believe it can be accomplished.
and our Board of Directors believe that the recommendations for the next
generation Farm Bill coupled with Core 4 Conservation is the answer –
the new approach that will achieve better soils, cleaner water and
greater profits for farm families and result in a brighter future for
the generations that follow.