A number of changes are in place and planned at NRCS, according to Bruce Knight, chief of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Bruce Knight, NRCS chief, described a number of new initiatives to the 1,200 in attendance at the 59th annual meeting of the National Association of Conservation Districts. He also introduced a new video produced to celebrate the 70th anniversary of NRCS.
Speaking at the 59th annual meeting of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) in Atlanta, Georgia, Knight says, "We have successfully reorganized NRCS to be more efficient." One key step for the agency, which is embarking on its 70th anniversary, was converting six national regions to three and naming new regional chiefs.
In addition, Knight listed the following initiatives:
- Increasing diversity on boards, commissions, etc.
- Scholarships for Asian/Pacific Islanders and tribal colleges
- A new and first of its kind memorandum of agreement between NRCS and NACD. Together the two groups will work on a strategic plan for involving local input in the next farm bill.
Knight says it is important for NRCS to prepare for discussion on the 2007 Farm Bill. "We need to buy as much conservation good will as we can with Congress as they begin to look at the next farm bill," he declared. To do that NRCS must complete work on the 2002 Farm Bill such as finish the current rule making process, streamline programs already in place, maximize contracts this year and increase accountability.
Knight admitted conservation took a "hit" in the budget recently proposed by President Bush. "We are in a time of war and budget austerity. It would be naÃ¯ve to think conservation would not take part in the process. However, the overall investment in conservation continues to grow — nearly double what it was in 2002. The budget still shows a commitment to conservation."
Knight says five factors will help maintain that commitment: The leadership of the new secretary of agriculture, innovation, continuing to deliver the programs authorized under the 2002 Farm Bill, preparation for the next farm bill and communication and outreach.
The first year of the Conservation Security Program was a large success, according to Knight. "For the first time we can reward the best in conservation."
The NRCS chief also hailed a number of successes for the agency in 2004. "We invested a record $2.8 billion in farm bill programs, signed 48,000 EQIP contracts, created or restored 228,000 acres of wetlands, closed 750 wetlands easements and helped fund 1,700 watershed and flood protection projects."