“Now, in addition to research, conservation is also an equally important component and strategy for sustainable productivity.

“In the 1930s a terrible drought and years of overworked farms led to the Dust Bowl, and millions of tons of soil were swept into the air. Since then USDA has worked with farmers and ranchers and producers to improve the land and make it more productive through conservation.

“USDA has forged voluntary partnerships with land owners yielding real public benefits. In the last 30 years producers have reduced soil erosion by more than 40 percent, and agriculture has now become the leading cause of restoring wetlands, whereas before, it was the leading cause of wetland loss.

“All of this is providing cleaner and better water for American people. Farmers understand why all of this matters. They understand the need for healthy and productive soil and the need for a plentiful water supply, and they appreciate that voluntary conservation programs support both needs.

“Now, in the past three years, USDA has looked for better ways to target conservation investments; and as a result, today we have a record number of acres enrolled in conservation programs. Guided by science, farmers will work to use the right conservation program and practices in the most critical areas of their farms.

“An analysis proves that this approach of voluntary conservation works; but, clearly, we cannot afford to let up.  That's why we're maximizing our efforts by embracing locally-driven conservation programs and by entering partnerships that focus on large landscape-scale conservation programs. 

“We have one here in the upper Mississippi River. We should also combine that strategy with an approach that gives farmers and ranchers regulatory certainty when they adopt certain conservation practices.

“I want to encourage Congress to continue their commitment to improve conservation programs, to maintain a robust investment in voluntary conservation assistance and to encourage our efforts towards regulatory certainty tied to conservation. Fewer programs, more flexibility, simpler applications, and a streamlined process for applying will help target our resources effectively and efficiently.

“Now, given limited federal resources, we also need to find creative ways to incent the private sector to invest in conservation.

“Now, if we can measure, and if we can verify the positive results of conservation, we can encourage the development of local markets in which businesses can purchase that result which will allow them to meet one of their regulatory requirements.  Leveraging private sector resources will avoid a decline in conservation practices in the face of fewer dedicated federal resources.

“Now, the final principle for promoting our agricultural productivity and protecting our farms obviously involves promoting strong markets.  Now, as Congress works on this bill, they should recognize we need vibrant, fair, and diverse markets at home and abroad for our farmers, ranchers, and producers of all types and all sizes.