Veteran Farmer Says EPA RFS Proposal Will Likely Undermine Conservation Efforts

The following is a guest blog from Kevin Jeffries, a grain and cattle farmer in North Central Kentucky who has been engaged in local, state and national conservation issues for 30 years. A former president of the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts, Jeffries serves on the board of the National Association of Conservation Districts.

Earlier this year, the CEO of the National Association of Conservations Districts sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy encouraging the agency to revisit its proposed rule that would severely lower this year’s biofuel blending requirements under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Here’s why it’s important to me and others involved in conservation efforts that EPA reconsider this short-sighted proposal before issuing the rule, probably in June.

NACD represents America’s 3,000 locally-led conservation districts working with millions of cooperating landowners and operators to help them manage and protect land and water resources on private and public lands in the United States. Established under state law, conservation districts share a single mission: to work cooperatively with federal, state and other local resource management agencies, and private sector interest to provide technical, financial, and other assistance to help landowners and operators apply conservation to the landscape.

Part of the role of conservation districts is to help guide local producers in implementing conservation systems and practices which are environmentally sustainable on their land. Basic economics tell us that farmers and ranchers need to be profitable in order to afford investing in conservation on their lands.

Lower demand for renewable fuels means lower prices for corn, soybeans and other crops. Generally, producers account for lower prices by shifting to more profitable crops and by cutting back on investments like conservation systems and practices that have a longer term payback period.

If EPA follows through with its proposed rule for lower RFS standards, I’m fearful it could have a detrimental effect on grain prices, which, in turn, would force producers to cut back on installing conservation practices on their land. Since the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, we have witnessed time and time again what happens when net farm income falls: fewer conservation practices are applied to our lands. For this reason, it’s hard to support an action that could result in the reduction of conservation implementation and lead to the deterioration of our natural resources base.

As a nation we have invested a lot of time and money into conservation of our natural resources since the days of the Dust Bowl. We have made great strides in protecting land with conservation systems as well as improving air, water and soil quality. We have developed green technology to utilize renewable fuels and worked to educate landowners on sustainable stewardship practices. It would be a shame to revert to old ways that are counter-productive to our enormously successful conservation efforts.

As members of the local conservation delivery system, we, along with our federal, state and local partners, have made tremendous advances over the last several years in protecting our natural resources. We cannot afford to backslide due to any reduction in resources that would likely occur with a weaker RFS. We call on EPA to reconsider its proposed rule.

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