7 Conservation and Resource Management

7.1 Agriculture Conservation

(Updated February 2016)

Voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs are the bedrock for agriculture’s efforts to improve water quality, soil health, air quality, and address water quantity concerns. Taking a broad look at a landscape for planning purposes minimizes the challenges associated with managing lands for the benefit of a particular species or to address a specific need. NASDA encourages federal conservation planning processes to be streamlined and focused on working with producers and land managers to achieve desired goals.

  • NASDA supports voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs. Additionally, NASDA encourages locally-led, flexible and landscape scale approaches to address diverse state and regional differences. 
  • NASDA supports effective and efficient cross-jurisdictional coordination that enables local, state, and private entities to undertake necessary management actions. NASDA supports a combination of policy tools, financial incentives, education and technical assistance to enhance environmental performance by producers.
  • NASDA believes federal agencies should recognize "functionally equivalent" state programs and believes voluntary programs should offer some form of presumption of compliance with regulatory programs.
  • NASDA believes conservation and environmental programs should respect personal property rights and confidentiality of producer data and conservation plans.

7.2 Conservation Programs

(Updated February 2016)

USDA conservation programs are effective tools in helping farmers and ranchers implement and maintain conservation practices. NASDA supports Farm Bill conservation programs for addressing environmental concerns.

  • NASDA encourages Congress to adequately fund Farm Bill conservation programs. In particular, NASDA supports funding for EQIP, CSP, RCP and ACEP.
  • NASDA supports increased funding for technical assistance (TA) and availability of TA for all producers seeking to implement improved management practices.
  • NASDA supports increased flexibility of farmland preservation programs. NASDA emphasizes the need to focus on farm viability, deference to local and state conservation entities.

7.3 Water Quality

(Updated February 2016)

The protection and conservation of our nation’s water resources is a key priority. NASDA supports efforts to ensure the maintenance of water quality at levels that protect human health, as well as physical and biological aquatic environments, that are science-based, technically sound, practical, cost-effective and achievable, while also ensuring that agricultural production remains economically viable across the nation.

  • NASDA believes local, voluntary, incentive-based approaches are the best way to address water quality challenges and that these approaches, rather than proscriptive regulatory programs, must be the foundation for addressing these challenges. Water quality programs must preserve private property rights, producer confidentiality, and allow for a balance between economical agricultural production and wetland conservation

The Clean Water Act and State Roles:

  • The Clean Water Act (CWA) established a cooperative approach between the federal government and state governments to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters. It is imperative the federal government respects that the primary responsibility for planning the development and use of water resources rests with the states. Federal policies must ensure state laws regarding water rights and allocations are honored and that states are given maximum flexibility in the management of both their water resources and their water quality programs.
  • The role of the federal government should be to establish national water quality goals that are achievable, support state efforts for implementing water programs, provide technical and financial assistance, support research and development, and providing appropriate oversight of state programs. The federal government should also recognize state certification and assurance programs.
  • EPA’s implementation of the CWA must avoid overly prescriptive requirements on states, be financially feasible for states and the regulated community, and be based on sound science.
  • NASDA opposes any expansion of federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction.
  • NASDA opposes the duplicative regulation under the CWA for activities that are already regulated under other statutes (such as pesticide use which is regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA))
  • The CWA’s agricultural exemptions under Sections 402 and 404 must be preserved and respected.

Nonpoint Source Pollution

  • Non-point sources of pollution (NPS) should not be subject to mandatory regulations under the CWA, but rather be addressed through voluntary, outcome-based programs.
  • The central focus for NPS management solutions should be on reasonable, voluntary, and incentive-based solutions utilizing education and technical assistance as well as financial assistance. All of these efforts must be grounded in solid, scientific, research-based, and financially viable solutions. NPS pollution management programs should emphasize the protection of water resources and state-designated water uses, recognizing the importance and needs of individual agricultural producers and other landowners affected by the CWA.
  • Programs at the federal, state and local levels must be funded fully, and coordinated with, not superseded by, the CWA. In particular, the state-led programs, when coupled with various Farm Bill, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act incentives and support, can provide significant opportunity for major environmental quality protection.
  • The CWA’s citizen suit provisions must not apply to individuals participating in NPS management programs.
  • NASDA encourages the further development and adoption of best management practices and new technology to address NPS water quality concerns. 
  • NASDA supports the CWA’s Section 319 program as the means for states to identify nonpoint sources in critical areas, and to develop management programs to control discharge.  Federal funding for Section 319 dedicated to on-the-ground work with producers and to help them adopt BMP practice implementation must be increased. EPA and the state water quality agencies should actively work with the state agricultural agencies and producers in identifying agriculture’s needs and priorities for 319 funding.

7.4 Environmental Management

Animal Feeding Operations (AFO’s)

The Clean Water Act (CWA) and the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System of permits (NPDES) do not stand alone in protecting America's waters from NPS runoff from animal feeding operations. In particular, the state-led programs, when coupled with various Farm Bill, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act incentives and support, can provide significant and continuing opportunity for major environmental quality protection. Federal water policies must recognize that the value of the state programs, if enhanced through federal efforts, could provide a firm foundation for a sound national NPS policy, including addressing the runoff associated with animal agriculture. States should have the flexibility and the authority to protect their natural resources from potential negative impacts resulting from livestock production by enacting statutes, regulations, and voluntary programs based upon sound science, economic feasibility, and the specific needs of the state. As an example, natural resource protection on medium-sized livestock farms will be best served by state programs which match requirements with available resources, because conservation does not occur without farm viability. States implementing effective zero discharge programs for confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) should not be forced to require CAFO’s to also have NPDES permits.

EPA does not have authority under the CWA to subject the land application of manure to some form of NPDES permit requirements, as it has recently sought to do. The intent of the CWA is clear – non-point sources of pollution are not subject to mandatory regulations under the CWA, but are to be addressed through voluntary, outcome-based programs. The legislative language makes a clear and concise distinction between point and non-point source management. The land application of manure has been a standard practice in agriculture since humans first introduced livestock into their agricultural activities. It has been an integral part of agriculture’s fertility and land improvement ever since. As such, and as for any of the other agricultural activities taking place across the land, the land application of manure is a nonpoint source activity under the CWA. It is imperative that the federal clean water program not require states to operate in any different manner.

Congress must support USDA’s incentives and NRCS technical assistance to help producers deal with their livestock manure management challenges, and EPA must continue to work with USDA in support of these efforts. Private sources of technical assistance on nutrient management matters will increase in importance as animal agriculture works to improve its manure management activities. Although the private technical assistance delivery system has been growing dramatically in recent years, it is nowhere near the capacity needed to prepare the number and kind of plans that EPA and USDA have envisioned. The federal agencies must not rely on the private sector delivery system beyond its capacity to provide solid and technically sound assistance. To do so would result in poor nutrient management plans, little help to the environment, and great damage to the credibility and future usefulness of this fledgling service sector. Such an initiative must build off the existing federal-state public conservation delivery system. The private sector can provide little of the needed services without maintaining a viable NRCS field staff and county Soil and Water Conservation District capability.

Compliance with state and federal regulations by livestock operations should offer some form of presumption of compliance with the objectives of regulatory programs and provide reduced liability associated with off-farm environmental degradation or nuisance law suits. This so-called environmental assurance concept or "safe harbor", which incorporates relief from additional regulations and enforcement, is necessary to ensure active voluntary participation.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)

(Updated September 2012)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been regulating Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) for more than 25 years. In many cases, the states preceded the federal government in both recognizing and regulating issues related to animal feeding operations. Throughout the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's, a number of states set higher or more restrictive standards for CAFOs, usually as a result of local issues or information. Some states developed permit programs and/or required design criteria for protection of both surface water and ground water. Other states implemented voluntary, incentive-based programs with strategies for nutrient management. These efforts have been led by state agriculture and conservation agencies working together with federal agencies, livestock and poultry industries, land grant universities, engineering consultants, scientists, and other local stakeholders.

Both state and federal CAFO rules have been reevaluated and updated over the past several years to keep up with industry changes, new technologies, and public perceptions. EPA finalized new regulations for CAFOs in 2003 which expanded the number of operations covered by the Clean Water Act (CWA) permit program to an estimated 15,500 operations. New permit requirements were added to include comprehensive nutrient management planning, and to extend coverage to include all poultry operations of a certain size. EPA is currently revising its 2003 CAFO rules to conform to a ruling of the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2005. EPA proposed a revised rule in 2006, but it has not yet been finalized.

NASDA supports EPA’s proposed 2006 revised rule. Now, the state agriculture departments and other agricultural stakeholders are anxiously awaiting the agency’s final rule. We have urged EPA to limit the final rule to the issues addressed by the court ruling and to provide more clarity on the regulatory obligations of livestock operations. States will need time to modify their CAFO programs to conform with the final rule. In late July, EPA announced that certain compliance deadlines would be extended until February 2009. This is helpful and will allow the states and other stakeholders an opportunity to adjust to the new requirements.

Although states have additional time to implement the new CAFO program requirements, the changes will create a resource and administrative challenge for state agriculture and conservation agencies. EPA has estimated that the CAFO regulations could result in compliance costs of $850 million to $940 million per year.

States will need to increase our efforts to identify, permit and inspect CAFOs. A major challenge is the ability of producers and state agency personnel to prepare the thousands of new nutrient management plans that will be required under the new rule. Livestock operators will need to address multiple nutrients in their waste management plans. They will need additional technical assistance, education, and training to comply with their permits. This creates additional demands on the state agriculture and conservation agencies which provide technical and financial assistance.

The key to achieving the national goal of assuring that animal feeding operations are managed to protect water quality is to provide states with the flexibility and resources to meet legal and programmatic responsibilities. We strongly believe that programs for managing animal nutrients are most appropriately implemented at the state and local level.

NASDA opposes requiring CAFOs to obtain an NPDES permit by characterizing ventilation dust and feathers as point source pollution under the Clean Water Act. 

Classification of Agricultural Byproducts in Environmental Regulations

Livestock manure, poultry litter, crop residue disposal and other agricultural byproducts contain or volatilize into naturally occurring organic compounds such as orthophosphate, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. These naturally occurring organic compounds result from routine agricultural operations and therefore do not meet the definition of a "hazardous chemical" under the Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA), or a Superfund "release" under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), nor do these compounds contain a "hazardous substance" as defined under CERCLA. As such, these agricultural byproducts produced during routine agricultural operations should not be subject to the provisions of EPCRA and CERCLA.

Rangelands, Pasturelands & Grasslands

NASDA recognizes the importance of grasslands and rangelands. These land resources account for almost one-half of the total area in the United States and are found in all 50 states.

Our land resources are important to agricultural and livestock production but also provide many benefits to society: clean air and water, open space, recreation and wildlife habitat. These lands are the base of our protein food supply and the proper grazing of these lands is essential to maintaining a healthy landscape and environment.

NADSA strongly supports efforts to promote and enhance the stewardship of these lands. The conservation programs of the NRCS, Forest Service, BLM, and EPA are strongly supported by state departments of agriculture.

NASDA fully supports the ongoing research by USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS) National Program in Rangeland, Pasture and Forages. This research will produce valuable scientific information and new tools for assessing and managing rangelands and pasture lands. NASDA appreciates the contribution of the Universities and Extension programs in this nation. The ability of this nation’s people to feed themselves with less than 10% of their income is in a significant degree due to their efforts.

7.5 Water Quantity

Congress made it clear in the Clean Water Act (CWA) that it is federal policy to recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of states to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution, to plan the development and use (including restoration, preservation, and enhancement) of land and water resources, and to consult with the Administrator of the EPA in the exercise of federal authority under this chapter. It is essential that in the implementation of CWA and other federal statutes that the federal government recognize, preserve, and protect these responsibilities and rights of states and not take steps to directly or indirectly create any federal water law or program that supersedes, abrogates or impairs state water allocation systems and water rights.

7.6 Air Quality

Air quality is an increasingly important issue for agriculture. Agriculture has always had some impact on air quality, whether through wind erosion and fugitive dust emissions, odors or smoke. Conversely, the quality of the atmosphere can affect plant and animal production. Federal, state and local regulatory agencies have been examining, and in some cases, regulating certain emissions from agricultural operations. Some of these are among EPA’s six "criteria pollutants" which are regulated under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) of the Clean Air Act, and for which specific, measurable threshold values have been established. EPA is required to review scientific studies associated with "criteria pollutants" every 5 years. One of the criteria pollutants related to agriculture is particulate matter (PM) which includes dust. Other criteria pollutants include ozone precursors (emissions that lead to formation of ozone, i.e. volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and oxides of nitrogen. There is significant debate over agriculture’s contribution.

NASDA believes more study is needed. Very little science exists for agriculture related air quality issues. NASDA supports dust control measures, but does not believe agricultural dust should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. There is no scientific evidence.

NASDA believes more information and better technology is needed to fully address current and future agricultural air quality issues which are increasingly complex. USDA’s NRCS is engaged in this process by developing information resources, providing technical assistance and training, and developing or implementing appropriate air quality technologies that will ultimately assist landowners and producers in making wise management decisions.

Practices to improve air quality include conservation tillage, residue management, wind breaks, road treatments, burn management, manure management, integrated pest management, chemical storage, etc. NASDA encourages these and other conservation activities. Addressing air quality concerns is an area of increasing emphasis in USDA’s conservation programs, including EQIP, CSP which provide incentive payments for actions that benefit air quality, including improving viability, reducing ozone levels, reducing transport of fine and course particulate matter, reducing potential for airborne agricultural chemicals, etc.

NASDA believes EPA and USDA should develop partnerships with state agriculture departments to address these issues in a voluntary, incentive-based way because this will have better success.

Burning woody biomass for energy in highly efficient combustion systems such as boilers is preferable to emissions from wildfire and open burning of woody debris piles. It also supports utilization of waste wood, is a renewable form of energy, and helps local economies by keeping energy dollars local.

Climate Change

United States agriculture has a very momentous and meaningful challenge in regards to climate change. Greenhouse gases are crucial for plant, water, and atmospheric ecosystems, which all greatly affect our lives. Each region of the world will have different reactions to change in climates, and decisions regarding laws and enforcement of said laws need to be carried out by state and local governments.

NASDA recognizes that a cap on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could increase fuel, fertilizer, and utility costs in the agricultural sector, and it could possibly lead to regulated production methods and practices. At the same time, agriculture could also benefit from opportunities for producers to voluntarily moderate their GHG emissions through carbon sequestration in soils as well as in methane and fertilizer management. In any national policy on climate change, agricultural offsets should be eligible.

NASDA opposes mandatory restrictions on agriculture including mandatory methane restrictions under the Clean Air Act and restrictions on farming practices and farm machinery. NASDA also opposes a carbon tax. We support additional funding for USDA for carbon program implementation and agricultural sequestration research. NASDA believes the federal government needs to increase its effort to improve the scientific understanding of global climate change and how states can adapt to changing climatic conditions. The research should include potential impacts of climate change, including impacts on federal, state, and local infrastructure as well as impacts to natural systems at the local and regional scale, while keeping an economic balance.

American agriculture can continue to contribute to GHG emissions reductions through biofuels production, thus offering a clean supply of domestically produced energy. Climate discussions can lead to the development of a practical, voluntary carbon-trading system that includes access to the carbon market for agriculture and carbon sequestration for forestry.

Furthermore, NASDA supports Congressional actions to halt the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the Clean Air Act (CAA). NASDA prefers that Congress address this issue so as to ensure that agricultural concerns will be considered. Absent Congressional action, any regulatory activities related to GHG emissions must be done via a deliberative and transparent process that includes all agricultural stakeholders including state departments of agriculture and USDA.

Carbon Emissions Cap and Trade System

NASDA supports a national carbon emission cap and trade system to offset non-farm greenhouse gas emissions and which allows the agriculture sector to receive credits for greenhouse gas reductions. Such a system should include provisions for standardized, cost-effective protocols for estimating greenhouse gas emission reductions from agriculture. NASDA also urges continuation and expansion of the Chicago Climate Exchange or other similar markets to provide financial compensation to farmers and ranchers for environmentally sound practices.

Promotion of conservation practices which accrue carbon in the soil as well as protect water quality should occur.

7.7 Energy (see Rural Development Policy Statement)

7.8 Threatened and Endangered Species

(Revised September 2015)

NASDA members are regulators with responsibilities for conservation, environmental protection, and wildlife management and also serve as co-regulators with federal agencies on numerous federal environmental statutes, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA seeks to conserve endangered and threatened species and in doing so, often places unreasonable land use restrictions on landowners. The Act is enforced by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marines Fisheries Service (NMFS) (together as, the Services). States must be involved early and thoroughly in all listing, determination and other ESA regulatory procedures, as they are valuable resources for data and have a greater understanding of local landscapes. As regulatory partners, federal agencies should seek state agency involvement and consultation as the Services work toward the ultimate goal of delisting species.

  1. NASDA supports the goal of conserving threatened and endangered species. Any program must also preserve private property rights and allow for a balance between agricultural production and species conservation.
  2. NASDA believes listing and delisting decisions must be based on reasonable scientific criteria and sound science. Further, any decision-making in the petitioning, determination and listing processes should acknowledge and analyze the economic impact to landowners and the surrounding community.
  3. NASDA supports a greater role for states in implementing and enforcing the Act. NASDA also supports greater partnership between the states and the Services on gathering species and habitat data, the petition and determination processes, preparation of recovery plans, identification of recovery areas, and subsequent delisting.
  4. NASDA supports voluntary incentive-based agreements with landowners for captive propagation, species population support programs, and alternatives to listings. Landowners should receive certainty from the Services that their cooperation in endangered species protection will not result in increasing demands and regulatory prohibitions on their farming or ranching operation.
  5. NASDA believes that implementation of the ESA should consider overall watershed and landscape health as a primary goal in the context of threatened and endangered species.
  6. The listing, designation of critical habitat, and implementation of recovery plans must utilize and solicit landowner feedback and public comment. NASDA supports transparency and extensive public input on the ESA listing, delisting, exemption and recovery processes. Also, NASDA believes the ESA must work towards delisting species while working with landowners. NASDA also supports ESA reform that includes the above tenets.

Endangered Species Act Consultation Process for Pesticide Registration and Use

  1. NASDA believes EPA and the Services must establish a collaborative, transparent and streamlined consultation process for pesticide registrations. The process should include clearly communicated criteria between EPA and the Services, be based on best available science and eliminate any duplicative steps. Any decisions made between EPA and the Services should not place unreasonable requirements on registrants and producers.
  2. EPA and the Services must include adequate time and robust opportunities for input from state departments of agriculture, who regulate pesticides in most states, and other impacted stakeholders. Regulatory decisions should be made in a timely manner that allows affected parties meaningful participation while addressing regulatory certainty.

7.9 Fertilizer Regulation and Use

(Updated September 2016)

Just as soil, water, and air are essential for growing food, so too are nutrients provided by fertilizers. Balanced nutrition, soil testing, nutrient use efficiency measures, and other tools are essential considerations for appropriate fertilizer use. While some federal laws govern the manufacture and transport of fertilizer, due to the dramatic variability of soil conditions from state to state, primary responsibility for fertilizer regulation rests with the states, typically state departments of agriculture.

  • Fertilizer regulation must be based on sound scientific and agronomic principles.
  • Fertilizer quality, labeling, and application are most appropriately regulated at the State level, rather than the federal level. Additionally, fertilizers should not be regulated by political subdivisions of a State due to the scientific expertise required. States should implement legislation to this effect.  
  • NASDA supports the comprehensive use of Nutrient Management Planning (NMP) when using fertilizer products. 
  • NASDA supports the utilization of the 4R stewardship system: using the right nutrient source, at the right time, rate, and place. 
  • NASDA supports policies that assure regional and farm-specific conditions are considered as farmers develop and implement Best Management Practices. This flexibility is critical in order for farmers to maximize the economic and environmental benefits of adopting BMPs.
  • NASDA encourages the adoption—by both states and industry—of electronic, paperless mechanisms for U.S. fertilizer tonnage reporting.
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