WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has suggested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture consider designating the Lower Mississippi River Valley as one of the Critical Conservation Areas established in the 2014 farm bill to more efficiently promote soil, water and habitat conservation programs on a regional level.
Cochran, the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he would support a Critical Conservation Area designation that includes Mississippi and neighboring states. The comments came as the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture began its review of the FY2015 budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department’s implementation of the 2014 farm bill.
“Regional partnerships have proven useful in Mississippi and on the Gulf Coast. The Lower Mississippi River Valley should receive serious consideration for a designation as a Critical Conservation Area,” said Cochran, who also met with representatives of the Mississippi Association of Conservation Districts. “Mississippi conservation districts are among those groups who historically have worked well to adopt effective tools to address natural resource problems and improve wildlife habitat. They can be important players under the cost-cutting reforms built into the farm bill. Our successful track record of conservation in Mississippi has resulted in economic benefits from a multi-billion dollar industry built around hunting, fishing and recreation.”
Cochran, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee, submitted questions to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding the timeline and process the USDA intends to use in designating the eight Critical Conservation Areas authorized in the farm bill as part of the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
The farm bill, enacted in early February, consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 reformed programs and saves more than $6.0 billion over 10 years. As part of this effort, the law creates the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which encourages collaborative conservation projects with federal, state and private partners. It also authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to designate eight Critical Conservation Areas to receive targeted program funding.
“The creation of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program offers an opportunity for regions like the Lower Mississippi River Valley to build upon existing partnerships and to provide agricultural producers and landowners the necessary tools to address critical natural resource issues related to soil health, water quality and quantity and wildlife habitat on a watershed scale while also supporting a diverse regional economy,” Cochran said.
The Lower Mississippi River Valley generally stretches from southern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico and includes the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois.