USDA’s Bonnie: Conservation Efforts Will Remain Voluntary

With the Biden Administration’s deep focus on conservation and the environment, some agriculture groups and individual farmers are worried about mandatory conservation efforts. However, Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie said conservation efforts by farmers will remain voluntary.

“You’re not going to adopt soil health practices at the end of a gun barrel,” Bonnie said while speaking with farm broadcasters in Washington, D.C. “Everything you will see from the Biden Administration (and) from USDA on this will be voluntary incentive-based collaborative efforts, partnerships.”

However, he said the agency will need proof that the method is working.

“We need the data to be able to prove this, to demonstrate that this approach can work. So, we’re making big investments with resources in the Inflation Reduction Act to make sure that we can prove that we have better numbers on soil carbon, we have better numbers on methane, better numbers on nitrous oxide emissions,” he said. “Data is going to be critical to both provide the information that producers need, but also to be able to look the public in the eye and look Congress in the eye and say, hey, these resources are providing real results.”

Bonnie said he’s also aware of the early adopters who are already using the conservation practices the USDA is encouraging and wants to make sure they are recognized, not penalized.

“We need to provide incentives to keep those early adopters in the game to continue doing what they’re doing. A lot of the learning that will take place is farmers talking to farmers, and so we want to support that as well,” he said. “It also means that partners are going to be really important. This can’t just be a USDA thing. We have to work in partnership with folks on the ground that can encourage the types of conversations that can happen locally.”

He said those conversations between farmers will lead to a greater adoption of conservation practices.

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