Statement on Soil and Water Conservation


January 19, 1989


Today I am transmitting to the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate this statement of policy on the Secretary of Agriculture's National Conservation Program for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) between 1988 and 1997.


The fundamental policies that guide the administration's approach to the management of soil and water resources on nonfederal lands are the principles of responsible stewardship and cooperative action to solve resource problems. Those principles rely upon individual landowners being responsible caretakers of natural resources, demonstrating concern for and willingness to maintain the productivity of those resources and the quality of our environment.


Individual stewardship is supported by a conservation partnership that includes private landowners, private business, associations, the educational community, State and local government, and the Department of Agriculture and other agencies of the Federal Government. Our policy is to support this partnership, with the objective that decisionmaking and responsibility for our natural resources will continue to rest with the individual private landowner.


Production statistics and our resource appraisals bear out the fact that farmers and ranchers acting on their own initiative have dutifully carried out their responsibilities in this conservation partnership. This cooperative approach, coupled with voluntary programs, has benefited the Nation's conservation effort. The approaches outlined in the National Conservation Program are not a total solution to the overall problems of agriculture and environmental quality. Rather, they are USDA's components in the conservation partnership.


There are some erosion and water quality problems that warrant resolution through a continued role for the Federal Government. Focused attention should be placed on the detection and treatment of agriculture nonpoint source water pollution, as well as reduced erosion of croplands and wetlands.


Federal and State Governments also need to play a major role in both research and education. The kinds of information needed require extensive and long-term research and data collection efforts. The private sector has little incentive to undertake such efforts, and institutions smaller than Federal and State Governments would be overwhelmed by such undertakings.


This National Conservation Program updates the program developed by the Secretary of Agriculture in 1982. It provides policy guidance for the programs of eight USDA agencies during the period 1988 - 97. The program is based on an appraisal of existing resource conditions and on projections of trends to identify possible future resource conditions. It provides for focusing activities on identified priorities, including the following: implementation of the conservation provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985, which link conservation and commodity programs; protection and enhancement of water quality and quantity; assisting State and local governments with the development and implementation of conservation programs; strengthening the USDA's role in agriculture chemical management; and implementing other actions to increase the consistency and cost-effectiveness of the Department's entire range of programs.


This updated National Conservation Program for USDA is just one component of the administration's overall prescription for fostering, protecting, and enhancing natural resources. It describes a realistic strategy for USDA to follow in helping landowners and land users manage, conserve, and improve soil, water, and related resources for an environmentally sustainable agricultural production system. I believe that implementation of this program will ensure that the conservation programs of the Department of Agriculture will continue to further the objectives of the Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act.


I commend the Secretary of Agriculture for his Department's efforts in preparing the program and for his responsiveness to the need for good stewardship and conservation of the Nation's soil, water, and related resources.