U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today questioned U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack at a 2014 Farm Bill implementation hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee about Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Mid-Contract Management policies and a backlog of undetermined wetlands in eastern and northeastern South Dakota.
Video of Thune’s remarks and questions can be viewed here.
CRP mid-contract management guidelines:
CRP land must be managed to control weeds and undergrowth by removing the vegetative cover once or twice during the lifetime of the contract. USDA has been requiring many South Dakota CRP participants to burn the vegetative cover or harvest it and destroy the hay.
“South Dakota producers received letters last year telling them that the residue they removed must be destroyed,” said Thune. “Over the years, this has resulted in literally of thousands of tons of feed that could have been put to use instead of being burned. I have requested in a letter that you either allow this residue to be donated with no reduction to the CRP annual payment, or if used by the participant that an annual payment reduction would be assessed. You responded in a letter that this concern would be addressed in future CRP policy changes. The question I have is can you assure me today that CRP participants will no longer receive letters requiring them to destroy residue removed during mid-contract management – on any CRP practices?”
Backlog of Undetermined wetlands in South Dakota:
The 2014 Farm Bill included a provision that requires farmers to meet conservation compliance rules on their land in order to be eligible for crop insurance premium assistance. Farmers need wetland determinations from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to ensure tiling, ditching, and other water management practices meet NRCS conservation compliance rules. South Dakota has the highest number of undetermined wetlands in the United States.
“We’ve had for several years now, farmers in eastern and especially in northeastern South Dakota have been faced with flooding and drainage issues and thousands of requests have been made to NRCS for wetlands determinations so they know how to manage their land and still meet the conservation compliance provisions,” said Thune
“According to the most recent South Dakota NRCS report we still have more than 2,000 undetermined wetlands in the state – which is three times or more as many as in any other surrounding state.
“Farmers are concerned, our state’s farm and commodity organizations are concerned, and I believe the South Dakota NRCS office staff is making an effort to reduce this backlog – but so far Mr. Secretary, the results just haven’t materialized. I requested last summer a meeting and there were some personnel from NRCS headquarters that attended in Aberdeen, and we had more than 350 farmers there, which tells you kind of how important this issue is to them. I know [the NRCS staff] came back to Washington having heard first-hand the frustrations of some of these farmers due to the backlog. My question is: what more can you do at headquarters do to help get this wetlands determination backlog under control?”