U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden spoke to the Waterfowl Advocate this month about the importance of agriculture and conservation.
DU: Like you, we believe in strong agriculture coupled with conservation - why is this balance so important?
Deputy Secretary Harden: Growing up on a farm in southwest Georgia, I have always had a deep passion for both agriculture and conservation. Prior to coming to USDA, I served as CEO of the National Association of Conservation Districts. I care deeply about conserving our land, soil and water and know that farmers are incredible stewards of the land. In my role as Deputy Secretary, I’m committed to partnering with organizations like Ducks Unlimited to enhance and preserve our natural resources for generations to come.
DU: The 2014 Farm Bill contained very important conservation programs. Can you give us an update on the implementation of these programs?
Deputy Secretary Harden: We have been moving full steam ahead with farm bill implementation. Among the first major farm bill initiatives to be implemented were disaster relief programs for livestock producers, many of whom have been waiting years for assistance. The farm bill also gave us a strong conservation title and it reflects the nation’s enduring commitment to conservation. More announcements on the new agriculture research foundation, educational tools for producers, improvements to conservation programs, and other farm bill provisions will continue to be made in the coming weeks and months.
Last week, Secretary Vilsack announced an historic new conservation initiative that will utilize public-private partnership to address regional conservation needs. USDA is investing $1.2 billion in Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) over the life of the farm bill and can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation. $400 million in USDA funding is available in the first year. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands. We look forward to conservation project submissions from your members!
DU: Many of the recent Critical Conservation Areas designations overlap with DU priority areas. Can you talk about the importance of these regions?
Deputy Secretary Harden: The critical conservation areas were chosen by the Secretary because they represent an opportunity for many stakeholders to come together at a regional level to address common natural resource goals while maintaining or improving agricultural productivity. The eight critical conservation areas are: the Great Lakes Region, Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Longleaf Pine Range, Columbia River Basin, California Bay Delta, Prairie Grasslands, and the Colorado River Basin.
In these regions, public and private partners will work closely with producers and communities to define and propose projects that will achieve regional natural resource goals while also meeting complementary local conservation priorities.
DU: You've previously heralded the partnership between DU and USA Rice. Tell us why you like it.
Deputy Secretary Harden: Partnerships are the cornerstone to many of our conservation successes. For example, working in partnership with DU and American farmers we’ve been able to use our combined strengths, expertise and resources to help ensure healthy habitats for migratory birds and other wildlife. Rice growers continue to proactively step up to create needed habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife year after year. Also, working with DU, America’s rice growers, and many other partners, the Wetlands Reserve Program, now the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program in the 2014 Farm Bill, helped more than 12,500 landowners enroll more than 2.9 million acres of wetlands into conservation.