Bipartisan legislation aims to help with farm conservation efforts

Bipartisan legislation was introduced today to address the shortage of technical service providers who help producers access USDA conservation programs through one-on-one assistance. The Increased TSP Access Act of 2023 expands on the framework from the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Our nation’s farmers and ranchers play a critical role in conservation, so it is important that they have access to Technical Service Providers (TSPs) who help fill the gaps in technical assistance when it comes to implementing conservation programs. I’m proud to lead this legislation that will streamline the TSP certification process to support our producers and improve conservation outcomes,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana), one of the Senate sponsors.

“Crippling red tape and understaffing at the Natural Resources Conservation Services make [conservation]programs too rigid and time-consuming” many farmers to apply to, said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado). “The future of rural America depends on whether the next generation decides to continue their family farms and ranches. The Increased TSP Access Act makes assistance more accessible and helps conservation programs live up to their potential.”

Earlier this year, Terry Cosby, head of the NRCS projected the agency would need to hire between 3,000 and 4,000 employees over the next two years to implement USDA conservation programs. In 2022, however, USDA was only given authority to hire 1,500 new employees and the agency retained 500.

The bill directs USDA to establish a process to approve non-Federal certifying entities, ensuring that USDA’s process will allow agricultural retailers, conservation organizations, cooperatives, professional societies, and service providers to become certifying entities. It also puts clear deadlines on USDA to ensure that the agency is responsive in administering the program.

The bill calls for the USDA to establish a streamlined certification process for TSPs who hold appropriate specialty certifications (including certified crop advisors). This guarantees that applicants with other certifications aren’t burdened with duplicative training, but are still trained in the competencies needed to serve as a TSP.

The bill also calls for TSPs—who are often paid using conservation program dollars—to be paid the fair market rate for their services.

“[The TSP Access Act] would expand the number of partners that farmers and ranchers can depend upon to access conservation programs and help implement additional stewardship practices on the land,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall.