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Casey, Colleagues Express Concern that USDA is Failing to Maximize Conservation Benefits and Assist Farmers Struggling Due to COVID-19 Crisis

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) led a bipartisan letter to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging him to implement changes and policy modifications to protect and enhance water quality, using key provisions authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. As farmers continue to struggle against pandemic-related market disruptions and challenging economic conditions, Senator Casey and his colleagues expressed concern that USDA is neglecting to take advantage of the full potential of Farm Bill-authorized programs to improve water quality and farm conservation. Senator Casey was joined in sending the letter by U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Joni Ernst (R-IA).

“As USDA moves forward with implementation of changes and policy modifications made to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the 2018 Farm Bill, we write to ask you to make several administrative changes to maximize the program’s ability to protect and enhance water quality. Congress authorized several key modifications to Continuous CRP (CCRP) in order to incentivize the adoption of practices to protect and enhance water quality,” wrote the Senators. “... We are concerned that USDA’s implementation of the program fails to capture the full potential of this program, and we urge you to utilize existing authorities under the 2018 Farm Bill to achieve enhanced water quality benefits.”

The Senators requested that Secretary Perdue:
• Increase the payment rate for Practice Incentive Payments to 50 percent;
• Actively promote the Clean Lakes Estuaries and Rivers (CLEAR) Initiative within CCRP; and
• Allow changes to the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to be adopted without amending existing agreements.

The Senators urged USDA to increase the rate of Practice Incentive Payments (PIPs), which were authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, to the maximum authorized level of 50 percent. The Senators, who worked together to establish the CLEAR Initiative within the Farm Bill, further urged USDA to provide increased outreach and promotion of the initiative. The Farm Bill also included several important changes to the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) in order to expand the program’s water quality benefits. However, USDA is not supporting states and partners in implementing such opportunities. The Senators expressed concern that farms are not receiving due payments for maintenance meant to enhance water quality and urged streamlined implementation of the changes to CREP.

Read the letter to Secretary Perdue here.