Two senators introduced legislation this week to ease reporting requirements for farmers who participate in federal conservation programs, which they said will encourage more farmers to sign up.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) proposed a bill, S. 3288, to exempt farms using the U.S. Department of Agriculture's conservation programs from having to register with the federal System for Award Management — a requirement placed on entities that do business with the federal government.
The bill also lifts a requirement that such farmers obtain a number under the Data Universal Numbering System.
Those requirements were never intended to apply to small farmers, for instance, but to large government contractors, the lawmakers said in a news release. The requirements are particularly tough on farmers because they rely on electronic systems that may not be accessible in rural areas without broadband internet access, they said.
"Farmers and producers across Minnesota are eager to take part in voluntary conservation programs, but for many, the burdensome reporting requirements and regulations are a barrier to access," Klobuchar said in the release.
The conservation programs are run mainly by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. The bill's introduction comes as the agency makes changes to the Conservation Stewardship Program, for instance, in an effort to make it simpler for potential participants.
The bill is similar to a measure (H.R. 5451) introduced in the House by Reps. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) and Rick Crawford (R-Ark.).
The National Farmers Union praised the legislation in a news release.
"Improving conservation practices in agriculture production benefits family farmers, ranchers and rural communities. USDA conservation programs encourage producers to implement sustainable practices in their operations, and we applaud any effort to incentivize taking part in these programs by removing restrictive regulatory barriers that might discourage participation," NFU President Roger Johnson said.