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Buck Urges Secretary Vilsack to Incentivize Responsible Stewardship of Private Lands

August 2, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representative Ken Buck (R-CO) sent a letter to the Honorable Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, urging him to incentivize responsible stewardship of private lands by adequately reimbursing Colorado farmers and ranchers contributing to conservation efforts and permitting dryland farming on retired irrigated acres in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

These two reforms would significantly increase Colorado farmers and ranchers’ participation in CREP and strengthen the vitality of rural communities throughout the state. Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

I write today to urge the USDA to better incentivize responsible stewardship of private lands. Farmers and ranchers contribute extensively to conservation efforts, especially with water usage, but reimbursement for these efforts is uneven at best and often fails to properly incentivize participation.

The Republican River Compact between Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska requires Colorado to retire 10,000 irrigated acres by 2024 and an additional 15,000 acres by 2029 in the South Fork subbasin of the Republican River. However, this agreement does not include any provisions regarding dryland farming on retired irrigated acres, and the NASS data used to calculate the retired irrigated acre rental rate does not accurately reflect current irrigated rental rates in every county. In order to ensure that Colorado’s farmers and ranchers are able to comply with the Compact, I request that you advance the following two priorities to support Colorado’s farmers and ranchers. 

First, it is important to permit dryland farming during the fifteen-year period of land retirement as provided for in the 2018 Farm Bill. The primary purpose of the Compact was to provide equitable division of waters and to promote the conservation of the Ogallala Aquifer, rather than forcibly retire farmland. The mandatory retirement of all soil types prevents farmers in the South Fork of the Republican River from participating in the CREP program and harms their livelihoods. If dryland farming was permitted in highly productive soils, young farmers would be incentivized to remain and participate in the CREP program. As Secretary, you have the power to amend the agreement and allow for dryland farming, which would preserve both the Ogallala aquifer and the livelihood of our rural communities in the region. I understand that a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) assessment has been authorized and I am grateful for this initial step. At a minimum, this assessment must cover dryland farming in the South Fork Zone of the Republican River. I encourage the USDA to complete the assessment and authorize dryland farming as quickly as possible to support farmers and ranchers impacted by the Republican River Compact.

Second, I urge the USDA to utilize local data as extensively as possible when determining reimbursement rates. The use of local data in the calculation of the rental rates will result in more equitable payments to farmers thus encouraging greater involvement in conservation programs like CREP. It will also ensure that payments remain more stable across county lines.

Currently, there is a large disparity between the payments that farmers are receiving in different counties – Yuma County is receiving $231 per acre while Kit Carson County is only receiving $130 per acre. If a farmer knows that his neighbor just over the county line is getting paid significantly more for involvement in a conservation program, he is less likely to participate. While I have seen substantial interest in the program, the current data is antiquated and causes skewed rates for different counties. With improved accuracy through the use of local data for reimbursement rates in the area, farmers and ranchers would be more likely to participate in CREP and pay their dues. 

America’s farmers and ranchers are the backbone of our country. These two priorities will assist farmers in the Republican River Basin to be in full compliance with the rules and regulations put forth by the Compact. Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Ken Buck

Member of Congress

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