A conversation with…
Matt Lohr, Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service who recently spoke at the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts 2020 Annual Partnership Meeting
OCJ: You have a farm and agricultural background right?
Matt: I do. I’m a fifth generation farmer from Virginia. We raise about three quarters of a million broiler chickens a year, feeder cattle, corn and bean rotation, and 20 acres of sweet corn. My wife, Beth, and I have six children who are all very involved in our farm. So it’s been very exciting for me to continue that tradition of farming with this next generation. And we’ll see — they’re still young so I’m not sure if I’ve got a full time farmer in the family or not. But we’ve done a good job of trying to instill a love of conservation in each of them.
OCJ: Now what are some of the key comments and topics you are talking about with some of the folks from Ohio?
Matt: I love being able to get out and speak at these state annual meetings. As you know, conservation districts are the number partner that NRCS employees have all across the country. So it’s great to have the chance to share and give an update on the lay of the land. We rolled out a new vision and mission statement recently talking about the status of our farm bill programs and highlighting a new mentoring program that’s coming out. It’s conservation agricultural mentoring program where we take new employees from all around the country and the local district conservationists would pair them up with local producers who are willing to be mentors to help teach them about local agriculture, help them understand what our local producers are going through and help them identify resource concerns and how our programs are able to really address those concerns. So, it’s always good to come and share, to be able to visit, and certainly to learn more about the industry and what’s happening here in Ohio.
OCJ: Is there anything else about those farm bill programs to talk about that you were wanting to highlight today?
Matt: Well so, Congress has blessed us with over $4 billion of funds to administer our major four farm bill programs: the environmental quality incentives program, the conservation stewardship program (also known as CSP), ACEP which is a conservation easement program, and then the RCPP the regional conservation partnership program. All of those programs we have been able to publish the interim rules. It’s a year-long process where we take the rules and regulations and they become intirum founder rules, which will guide all of our farm bill dollars through 2020. We are still in the process now of taking comments and finalizing them later this year, which will guide the farm bill programs for the next 3 years. So, it’s a long process. The 2018 Farm Bill came into effect right as I was becoming chief, and so giving an update on where we are, I know here in Ohio recently announced that the EQIP sign ups were going on and pretty soon they’ll be looking at CSP sign ups coming on in the next couple of months, so there’s a lot of activity happening.
OCJ: There is a lot of activity happening here in Ohio, particularly with regard to water quality. We’ve just seen an announcement about the Ohio EPA with TMDL for Lake Erie, and we’re in the middle of this H2Ohio program. What are some thoughts from the national level about these things going on in Ohio?
Matt: So, Northwest Ohio, I’ve learned, is just kind of a hotbed of activity. There are many resource concerns, especially as it relates to phosphorus loads that come from agricultural operations. So, you have to commend the state of Ohio for being very aggressive and putting forth a lot of money into the H2Ohio program, and really provide incentives for our farmers and ranchers to be able to address the resource concerns that they have. Our conservation districts work hand-in-hand with our NRCS employees and our staff and especially I think in those 14 counties in that area, where they’re going to be looking at how to combine our resources, working together to help deliver those funds that are available. So again, I applaud the state of Ohio for being able to really look at the needs and making the resource dollars available for that because many states are very behind in being able to do that.