Farmers in Arkansas are urging Congress to make permanent funding for conservation programs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 dedicated just under $20 billion to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS. Now, growers are calling on lawmakers to include that funding in the reauthorization of the large multi-year spending package known as the Farm Bill.

Jared Phillips is a professor at the University of Arkansas, and raises sheep at his farm in the Northwest Arkansas city of Lincoln. He says the funding, of which Arkansas received $724 million, helped him sustain and preserve his natural resources for future use.

“You have to figure out the best, most responsible mechanisms, tools, techniques, seeds, whatever that might be, to ensure that any given resource, whether it’s agricultural or not, is being adequately and appropriately used now,” he said. “And we’re also thinking about its continued use 50, 100, 500 years down the road.”

Phillips and several other Arkansas growers are featured in a new advertising campaign by the group Invest in Our Land, highlighting the need for ongoing conservation funding from the federal government.

For Phillips, conserving healthy grassland on his farm has led to better water management and soil health. He says NRCS funding helped offset the cost of effectively doubling the total grazing area for his sheep, ensuring no specific area is over-grazed.

“The animals are getting sufficient nutrition to stay healthy, and the grasses are doing the things that grasses are supposed to do; photosynthesizing, pulling carbon down, growing good, green leaves, protecting the soil from drought and heat and all these other different things,” he said.

Phillips added that it would have likely taken him several years and as much as $12,000 to expand fencing and water lines on his property, which took him under one year with the help of NRCS funds.

The Farm Bill dedicates funding to several USDA programs, including public assistance programs like SNAP, or food stamps. It’s reauthorized every five years, though its 2023 reauthorization has been delayed several times.

Phillips says conservation programs make economic sense for farmers, in addition to helping the environment.

“I can ensure that the health of the flock that I have is good, but it also gives me an opportunity to expand the amount of animals I can have in a grazing operation. It also means that I can defray my feed costs because it means I can produce more hay,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you’re able to expand your operation while saving money, that’s just good business.”

Republican Arkansas U.S. Sen. John Boozman, who serves as ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, says he hopes Congress will reauthorize the Farm Bill by the end of the year.

Rep. Rick Crawford, who serves on the House Committee on Agriculture, said in a statement that there currently are no plans to cut NRCS funding.

“NRCS recently received a boost through legislation which expires in 2031, the department is currently not on pace to get these funds out in a timely manner,” he said. “Current proposals being discussed would redirect much of the injection of funding and stretch it through 2050 to provide a better and more permanent stream of funds for these critical programs.”

For Phillips, funding for conservation projects translates to security for the future—both financial and environmental.

“I’m a multi-generation Ozarker. I very much want to care for the place that has brought me up. I also have to pay the bills on the farm. If the farm can’t pay for itself, then that’s a problem. And these things help me ensure that I can do that, and they help my wife and I ensure that we’re going to have a farm that we can pass on to one of our children, if they want it.”



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