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Agricultural Conservation: State Advisory Committees' Views on How USDA Programs Could Better Address Environmental Concerns

GAO-02-295 Published: Feb 22, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 25, 2002.
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Private landowners own more than two-thirds of the continental United States' 1.9 billion acres. Recognizing the critical role that private landowners play in managing soil, water, and wildlife habitat, Congress directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve stewardship practices on these lands. USDA currently has more than 70 million acres of privately-owned land enrolled in programs that offer landowners financial incentives to implement conservation practices to protect or improve soil and water quality and wildlife habitat. USDA's conservation efforts address specific environmental concerns, target funding toward state and local environmental priority areas, and promote partnerships with state or local entities to leverage limited funding. State technical committee members indicated that although USDA's conservation programs are generally effective, some targeted programs are more effective than others. Committee members cited several elements of the current programs that hinder achievement of environmental objectives and indicated a preference for more flexibility in new or existing programs. More than two-thirds of members considered program provisions that prohibit landowners from receiving compensation for maintaining previously implemented landowner-financed conservation practices to be a hindrance. Members would like to be able to tailor new or existing programs to the farming practices of producers in their states as well as increase emphasis on programs that keep lands in production.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture As USDA modifies or develops implementing regulations for conservation programs reauthorized or created by the omnibus farm bill, which is expected to become law in 2002, the Secretary of Agriculture should consider state technical committee members' views on (1) increasing emphasis on the Conservation Reserve Program Continuous and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, programs that target specific environmental concerns, (2) modifying programs to make them more accessible to all regions and types of agricultural operations, and (3) revising elements in all programs that hinder achievement of environmental objectives. If USDA finds that revising the program regulations to incorporate these views would require legislative action, the Secretary should submit such proposals to Congress.
Closed – Implemented
This recommendation is closed based on discussion and documentation provided by the agency.

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Agricultural programsConservationConservation practicesEnvironmental monitoringLand managementNatural resourcesConservation programsEnvironmental concernsNatural resources conservationWildlife