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Congress takes up Farm Bill, leading Ranchers to continue “Grassroots” dialogue about Farm Bill Conservation Programs


While citizens await the outcome of the 2012 Farm Bill, a number of leading western ranchers and farmers gathered in June in Reno, Nev. to voice their resounding support for USDA conservation programs to maintain the economic stability of ranch and farmlands.  A total 28 private landowners and 30 conservation partners, representing 12 western states, rolled up their sleeves to refine recommendations on how to better deliver Farm Bill conservation programs on private lands and across jurisdictional boundaries.

Nevada interests were well represented by nine prominent ranchers including Nevada Cattlemen’s president JJ Goicoechea, Joe Guild, JB Lekumberry, Georgia Black, Randy Emm, John Falen, David Spicer, Ray Hendrix and Duane Coombs.

“Farm Bill conservation programs have a proven track record,” said Jim Faulstich of Daybreak Ranch, South Dakota.  “We need to maintain the use of Farm Bill conservation programs to retain working lands for sustainable agriculture and wildlife, and communicate with decision-makers about their importance.

The landowner-led meeting in Reno was the second Farm Bill Forum hosted by the Intermountain West Joint Venture, Partners for Conservation, and the University of Montana-College of Forestry and Conservation.  In June 2011, eight recommendations were developed by western ranchers and farmers aimed at sustaining vibrant agricultural markets, supporting and streamlining voluntary incentive-based conservation, and promoting new and innovative ways to deliver conservation across mixed ownership patterns.  A published report was developed and shared with numerous decision-makers, providing an important basis for current deliberations on the Farm Bill.

The goal of the meeting was to expand the landowner network, refine the report, and formulate a plan of action to ensure effective implementation of conservation programs—to provide meaningful natural resource benefits while also helping sustain the economic viability of working lands.  The meeting was unique in its emphasis on producers convening and leading the discussion from a grassroots perspective, and offering solutions to help solve intractable issues related to federal conservation programs.

These leaders from the west identified three critical points that will be further refined:


  • Maintain Conservation Title funding without further cuts.  Agricultural production and natural resource conservation are compatible in both policy and implementation.  Supporting the long-term productivity and economic viability of America’s farms and ranches is paramount to maintaining healthy soil, water, wildlife and other natural resources.  Farm Bill conservation programs are critical for the future, catalyzing public and private financial investments, creating jobs, and energizing communities.  As part of this priority, landowners underscored the need to continue funding Technical Assistance.


  • Streamline programs and eliminate bottlenecks and barriers to effective conservation delivery.  Several landowners referenced inefficiencies and “red tape” related to marketing, contracting, and implementing conservation programs, and capitalized on the opportunity to brainstorm creative solutions.


  • Support voluntary incentive-based programs that are flexible and empower local decisions and accountability.   Testimony after testimony supported examples of win-win solutions for agriculture and wildlife through innovative approaches to landscape conservation and building trust and relationship between private landowners and conservation partners.

Producers represented California, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, and brought a vast knowledge and experience base with Farm Bill conservation programs, from the ranch and farm country of West Texas to the redwood forests of coastal California.

Conservation partners included public and private representatives from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative, Bureau of Land Management, Ducks Unlimited, Partners for Conservation, Nevada Department of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.  Staff for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R) attended the event.

Ray Hendrix and Duane Coombs of Smith Creek Ranch in Austin, Nev., were presented with an award for their efforts to protect sage-grouse habitat and improve rangeland.

Coombs summarized the tone of the event by saying, “Be the producer who knows the situation at hand.  Be the producer with a solution.  Be the producer who they know will address the issues.  Be the producer who they can trust.  Be the producer who is logical.  And be the producer with the best interest of the land at heart.”


These action-oriented ranchers, farmers, and conservation partners, as well as others, plan to stay connected and informed about the role of federal conservation programs to build better partnerships, and continue to develop conservation solutions for working lands.

The timing for the meeting was important given the status of Farm Bill deliberations.  The Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (a.k.a the Farm Bill) by a vote of 64-35 on June 21.  Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the Committee’s Ranking Member, worked together to secure a strong bipartisan vote.  Members on both sides of the aisle said the entire process was a return to a more bipartisan tone in the Senate, and based on citizen involvement.  Attention now turns to House of Representatives as they discuss their own version of the Farm Bill beginning July 11.

The mission of the Intermountain West Joint Venture is to conserve priority bird habitats through partnership-driven, science-based projects and programs. We bring people and organizations together across parts of 11 states to leverage technical and financial resources, building our collective capacity to achieve conservation at meaningful scales.

Partners for Conservation is a private landowner organization which communicates and collaborates on conservation partnerships for working landscapes to benefit present and future generations.

Through innovative teaching, research, and service, the University of Montana-College of Forestry and Conservation, empowers society and its future leaders to better understand and more effectively conserve, restore, and sustain complex social-ecological systems in the Rocky Mountains and beyond.  

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