“Conservation funding is going to go up, but no one kno

A former NRCS chief weighed in on conservation funding during a recent webinar hosted by People's Company. (Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)

Conservation funding center of recent webinar

June 3, 2021 | Joseph Hopper

As climate and conservation benchmarks begin to form under a new federal administration, former Natural Resources Conservation Service chief David White explained current federal initiatives and expectations during the Peoples Company’s “Big Questions in Land Management” webinar hosted recently.

White, introduced as a senior conservation advisor, said the American Jobs Plan, the 30x30 initiative and the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill are the current conservation-related topics to watch on Capitol Hill.

“Why is private land so important?” White asked rhetorically. “The quality of our environment really depends on the millions of individual decisions private individuals and owners make every day.” He added, “Climate change is really making some changes. Since 1980 we’ve had 291 weather and climate disasters exceeding $1 billion. What we used to call extreme weather is now unfortunately becoming somewhat of a normal occurrence.”

The former NRCS chief says the cost of land degradation has reached approximately $490 billion per year and the United States’ fire season has grown 78 days longer than the season was in the 1970s. White expected the passage of climate or infrastructure legislation as imminent.

On May 28 President Joe Biden released his proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year. The requested budget includes adding $1.2 billion more than the previous fiscal year to increase resilience of ecosystems and communities to wildfires, flooding and drought. The proposal would mark a 16.7% increase in funding for the USDA, with $4 billion earmarked for “USDA’s research, education and outreach programs focused on making investments in agricultural research to put science and data-driven tools and American technologies in the hands of farmers.”

“We need to equip America’s farmers to out-compete the world,” USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack said in a release on the proposed budget Friday.

Legislators are also approaching new conservation funding opportunities.  The 2018 Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30, 2023, and work on the 2023 Farm Bill has already begun. The senior conservation advisor said Farm Bill-related activity will slowly increase with hearings next year before a flurry of activity in 2023 to finish the bill on time.

“Conservation funding is going to go up, but no one knows how much,” White says.

He says funding ranges from $1 billion in the infrastructure plan to the $15 billion plus annual funding in the Climate Stewardship Act.

“The key thing here on whatever passes, any additional funds now will become part of the baseline for the 2023 Farm Bill,” White says. “I think that bodes well for conservation.”