McKinney: conservation and climate programs must remain voluntary

As work on the farm bill continues, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture CEO Ted McKinney says it’s critical that ag-related conservation or climate programs remain voluntary.

“Farmers will race the other way if programs are mandated,” he says. “Plus, farmers pick up on these things. Incentive them a little bit and it goes a long way.”

He tells Brownfield additional regulations are not the answer.

“U.S. agriculture, and I think of my fellow farmers and friends here in Indiana among others, are in the driver’s seat. We are much more often seen as a solution to the climate problem than we are a detriment,” he says.  

McKinney says farmers have led the way in adopting soil health practices that benefit the environment.

“We among others led the way in no-till adoption and minimum-till adoption. These are great things to celebrate,” he says.

He says there is always room for improvement.

“For farmers who have not yet adopted some sort of conservation tillage, I’m not telling them what to do but I hope they’ll look for ways to be seen as more conservation compliant because I need to tell Europe and the rest of the world that we’re leading, not following. We’re finding opportunities and farmers are finding an extra income stream as a result of their decisions. My hope is to avoid the heavy hand of regulation.

NASDA released its priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill last month. Priorities under conservation and climate resiliency include:

  • NASDA recommends increased funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program
  • NASDA supports increasing the total funding amount for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the program’s federal matching contribution percentage.
  • NASDA recommends creating additional investments in research, incentive programs for voluntary practices, and technical assistance resources that equip more farmers and ranchers with options to protect and conserve natural resources through farming practices.
  • NASDA supports compensating farmers and ranchers already using climate-smart strategies to reduce emissions, sequester carbon and improve resiliency.
  • NASDA encourages Congress to create incentives for state and local governments to invest in outcome-based water quality programs.

Brownfield interviewed McKinney during the 2023 Agricultural Summit by First Farmers Bank and Trust in West Lafayette, Indiana.

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