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Senators Stand Up for Conservation

With the Senate finalizing their version of the farm bill last week, there will be some decisions to make as Congress looks to merge the versions approved by each chamber this summer. The rider-free Senate version, however, is more likely to pass and create positive change in our communities.

Although the tradition of bipartisanship broke down rather quickly in the House negotiations, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) steered clear of controversial changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (as included by the House) and sought bipartisanship throughout.

States like Ohio will need to see this type of cooperation and leadership as Congress heads into a conference committee this month. Many of the programs in the conservation section are the main line of defense in Ohio against reducing nutrient loading and harmful algal blooms. Losing already scarce resources will make things even more difficult while temperatures continue to rise and severe rain events continue to wash nutrients from the land into the waterways.

Although there was not an increase in conservation funding in the Senate farm bill, it remained even and included some improvements. A notable provision provides authority for the USDA Secretary to encourage source water protection by providing higher payments through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This will allow resources for these programs to be spent in areas that will make the most impact for water quality.

Additionally, many provisions included in the Senate version address modern agricultural conservation problems, none more so than dealing with climate change. As climate change is making Ohio’s harmful algal bloom problem worse, conservation practices could be prioritized for funding if they show resilience to worsening weather events or climate change impacts. Along with this, effectiveness will be better understood if they keep data aggregation provisions that will protect farmers’ privacy while allowing cost benefit analyses to be done for conservation practices.

The Senate farm bill received nearly an 8-to-1 ratio of support while the House version only passed by 2 votes on the second attempt to vote the measure out. This bipartisan support gives the Senate a clear mandate to incorporate their conservation section into the final bill during conference committee. The Senate version supports producers, consumers and the natural resource of states like Ohio. We will need this well-rounded approach to help us reduce harmful algal blooms without hindering our agricultural industry.