Central Kansas farmer Dean Stoskopf testified Feb. 28, before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on his views of Conservation Programs and their role in the 2012 Farm Bill.
Stoskopf, a diversified dryland farmer from Hoisington, testified among Administrator Bruce Nelson, of the Farm Service Agency, Chief David White, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and other farmers stated their goals are to leave the land in better condition than they found it.
Conservation has been a significant priority on the Stoskopf family farm since the Dust Bowl. In the 1930s, Dean's parents were married and planted shelterbelts and windbreaks and watered their trees using horses and wagons. In the 1950s, they received the Kansas Bankers County Conservation Award for their soil and water conservation efforts. To bring conservation full circle, Dean and his wife, Mary Anne, were recognized for their own conservation efforts with the same Bankers Conservation award in 1996.
In his testimony, Stoskopf offered three guidelines that he believes will allow conservation programs to continue the legacy of success they have built. The first guideline requires keeping programs simple. He suggested combining existing programs into three core programs; working lands, land retirement and land easement programs. "Reducing complexity should reduce the overhead associated with administering dozens of different programs and allow program dollars to reach their intended purpose," he told members of the Committee.
The second guideline, keeping programs local, suggests that every region of the country has different conservation needs and require locally tailored solutions. Farmers working with their local USDA NRCS staff are best able to develop solutions that will work for their area.
"Working land programs should be administered as locally as possible, and no higher than the state level," Stoskopf says. "Local landowners, tenants and advisors have a much better understanding of the needs in their area, as well as the solutions that will work."
The third and final guideline of Stoskopf's proposed solution involves keeping the staff of the USDA NRCS as friends and advisors to farmers, not enforcement agents for the federal government. "The NRCS staff and the staff of the local Conservation District have always been technical consultants and advisors, working cooperatively with local farmers to find solutions and advance conservation."
"As farmers, we trust those advisors to help us improve the soil and water quality on our farms, which has always been the goal of conservation programs," Stoskopf says."If the NRCS becomes an enforcement agency, that trust will be lost, along with the cooperation."