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Flanked by plumes of Indiangrass, Field Goldenrod and other native plant species growing adjacent to soybeans on a farm in rural Carbondale, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, on Friday called for more participation in federal conservation programs and touted funding to do so.
About $18 billion will go toward four existing and long oversubscribed USDA conservation programs administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
The money stems from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the $740 billion climate, tax and healthcare spending package Durbin and other Democrats passed and President Joe Biden signed into law this summer.
“It’s the biggest investment we’ve ever made at one time expanding these programs,” Durbin said. “I’m glad we did it (but) it’s not nearly what we need.”
The legislation allocates $8.45 billion to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP); $4.95 billion for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP); $3.25 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP); and $1.4 billion for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
Starting in fiscal year 2023, which begins Oct. 1, EQIP, RCPP and CSP would each receive $250 million, while ACEP would get $100 million.
Another $1 billion would go to NRCS for conservation technical assistance, with NRCS receiving an additional $300 million to track and measure the impact of ag practices on greenhouse gas emissions.
“We should be funding this at a higher level,” said Durbin, who sits on the Senate Ag Committee. “I’m hoping this new farm bill is an opportunity to do that.”
Asked by FarmWeek if he expects additional conservation dollars to be included in the 2023 farm bill on top of funding outlined in the new law, Durbin said, “Historically, each year, we put more money in conservation – I’m confident we’ll do it again.”
Following through on that claim would help alleviate the surplus of applications for EQIP and CSP, two programs that NRCS Chief Terry Cosby told Congress this February are oversubscribed.
The agency in fiscal year 2021 enrolled 34,054 EQIP contracts totaling 11.6 million acres, enrolled 4,495 new CSP contracts on 5.8 million acres and renewed 2,709 CSP contracts on 3.8 million acres.
Durbin said those figures reflect the “remarkable change” in farmers’ attitudes toward conservation and precision agriculture over the last five years.