FORD COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Led by the National Climate Taskforce along with input from other federal agencies, the Biden Administration’s Executive Order on climate change is aimed at reducing pollution, promoting a greener environment, and tackling the climate crisis. But the 30 by 30 plan within that order is raising concern for many Kansas farmers and ranchers, leaving some with more questions than answers. 

The 30 by 30 plan, if you’re a farmer, rancher, or landowner — you’ve likely heard about the federal push to conserve 30-percent of U.S. lands and waters by the year 2030. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, right now about 12-percent of the land in the U.S. is in conservation.

Within the next 10 years, the federal government hopes to transition nearly 440 million acres into federal protection.

The USDA reports the nation has nearly 900 million agricultural acres. In Kansas, nearly 46 million farming acres were operated in 2020. To achieve the 30-percent conservation goal some agricultural land could be impacted, this includes privately-owned land. In Kansas, 98-percent of the land is under private ownership.

“Kansas is over 98-percent controlled in private hands, we’re not a state that thinks highly or is encouraged or incentivize by the federal or even state government coming and buying private land,” said Ryan Flickner, Senior Director of Advocacy for the Kansas Farm Bureau.

“It’s not a policy, it’s not law yet, it’s just essentially this executive order — it’s a goal to work towards,” said Kyler Millershaski, Vice President of Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and Fifth Generation Farmer.

The question for landowners, is will they be forced to conserve their land?

The federal government says it will work with individuals and other stakeholders to gauge strategies to encourage participation in the plan.

“At first, I was scared, I think a lot of people were scared because they didn’t know what was going to happen, there was a lot of uncertainty,” said Millershaski. “The nice part about this is they are asking for input from the local producer level.”

Federally funded conservation programs like CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) and CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) that provide incentives for farmers and ranchers to conserve some of their lands are expected to be counted toward the 30-percent.

There are more than 4.5 million Kansas acres already in those conservation programs.

ProgramContractsContracted Acres
Grand Total36,0464,528,127
Kansas Conservation Programs – CRP numbers updated by Kansas Farm Service Agency as of February 2021. Other programs updated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United States Department of Agriculture as of April 2021.

“If there is a working land program that USDA offers, according to Secretary Vilsack, would be credit for the conservation practices that actually puts on the ground,” said Flickner.

But the big concerns, do 30-percent mean a third of each state’s land, or could some states have a larger percentage than others, and how will the government decide what land is being conserved?

Those questions, have yet to be fully answered.

“That really is one of the toughest questions that we just haven’t gotten an answer out of this administration on,” said Flickner.

For many farmers, they want to ensure the order doesn’t impact planting decisions, negatively alter the markets, or affect exports. “We want to make sure we have regional flexibility for any policy that comes out of this plan,” said Millershaski.

And as the ag industry continues to change, they also want confirmation that the rural way of life can continue to thrive. Many say they do want to work together to better the environment, but also want to make sure the plan won’t lead to unforeseen negative consequences.

“That’s the most important thing to me is making sure that there’s an opportunity for the next generation of American farmers to be successful,” said Millershaski.

Kansas politicians, (R) Sen. Jerry Moran, (R) Sen. Roger Marshall, and (R) Rep. Tracey Mann have all outwardly voiced their opposition toward the plan. Others have followed suit, including both the Kansas and Nebraska Attorneys General.

Many saying it could undermine landowners’ rights and hurt rural economies.

Mann tweet addressing the 30 by 30 plan.
Moran tweet addressing the 30 by 30 plan.

The American Farm Bureau Federation also gave its input:

“First and foremost, it’s important to note that the Biden administration is still developing the 30×30 proposal, but even so the idea of expanding government holdings at the expense of hardworking farmers and ranchers is unconscionable. Our members are following this issue closely as we await final details. With that being said, farmers and ranchers are the original conservationists, and AFBF believes conservation can be achieved without infringing on constitutionally-protected private property rights or abandoning multiple-use management of our public lands. This doesn’t mean farm families aren’t working to build upon our environmental sustainability. In fact, farmers and ranchers have voluntarily enrolled millions of acres into federal and nonfederal conservation programs. AFBF stands ready to work with the Biden administration to continue the progress our members have made toward improving the environment while also meeting the moral imperative of feeding nearly 9.5 billion people.”

As well as an official statement from the Kansas Farm Bureau:

“Regarding 30×30, KFB is aware and following the issue. We have strong policy protecting private lands and will remain steadfast in defending our policy. Currently, 30×30 is not a legislative proposal. Instead, it’s an Executive Order that asks the USDA to create a report and gather feedback from stakeholders. Specifically, it asks the USDA to “solicit input from State, local, Tribal, and territorial officials, agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, and other key stakeholders in identifying strategies that will encourage broad participation in the goal of conserving 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030” and “collect input from Tribes, farmers, ranchers, forest owners, conservation groups, firefighters, and other stakeholders on how to best use Department of Agriculture programs, funding and financing capacities, and other authorities, and how to encourage the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agricultural and forestry practices that decrease wildfire risk fueled by climate change and result in additional, measurable, and verifiable carbon reductions and sequestration and that source sustainable bioproducts and fuels;”

At this time, we’re encouraging producers to make comments in the federal register notice here.

At the state and federal level, both Kansas Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau will continue to monitor the situation.

President Biden signed the executive order on January 27 and within 90 days from that date, there is to be a report outlining the steps to take to accomplish the 30 by 30 plan. That date is coming up on April 27. Currently, there has been no discussion as to what will be in the report or what steps of action will be highlighted in the report. But officials urge there are many steps that must happen before this order can be moved forward.

“First, Congress must authorize a program or additional land acquisition. Second, Congress must appropriate or fund these programs. Third, the federal administration must write rules and regulations on any new law that has been enacted. Kansans will have opportunity to provide input at the front end of all three steps,” said Flickner. “Should there be any sort of goal or objective to add additional federal or state lands to the portfolio Farm Bureau will adamantly oppose as we strongly support private property. However, if there is discussion about improvements to current USDA programs like CRP and EQIP, Farm Bureau will be an active participant to ensure those technical assistance and cost-share programs work for Kansas farmers and ranchers.”

There is a public comment period open through the Federal Register until April 29 for people to share opinions and concerns about the plan. 

For more information on National Heritage Areas and their distinction from the 30 by 30 plan, click here.