PASSAGE OF FARM BILL IN LAME DUCK SESSION OF CONGRESS CRITICAL TO CONSERVATION
The expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill on September 30, 2012, coupled with deep cuts to conservation programs incurred through the appropriations processes during the last two years, threatens the continued viability of many programs important to the Izaak Walton League. Between now and the time that Congress adjourns in December, the League and partners in the hunting, angling, and conservation communities will pursue a two-tiered strategy regarding the 2012 Farm Bill. This email summarizes that strategy.
We want our members and supporters to understand this strategy because the legislative process is unpredictable and requires advocates to pivot quickly from one tactic to another as events develop. We'll be asking you to support various policies and tactics over the next few weeks. We hope the information below will help you to understand the strategy and how it will respond to changing dynamics on Capital Hill.
First-tier: Aggressively push Congress to pass a comprehensive, five-year Farm Bill before it adjourns. This is the preferred approach because it will prevent even deeper and more damaging cuts to conservation programs. More information is included below about how these programs have already been deeply cut by Congress. Please look for an Action Alert on this issue later this week and contact your U.S. Representative.
Second-tier: If Congress moves to extend the existing Farm Bill into 2013, then ensure that producers can protect sensitive wetlands and grasslands by enrolling them in conservation programs. It will also be important to oppose further cuts to conservation to offset the costs of drought and disaster relief legislation.
Conservation Programs Deeply Cut: Conservation programs have incurred significant cuts below the levels established by the 2008 Farm Bill. During the last two years, $1.4 billion has been cut from critical conservation programs. While cuts could be anticipated as a result of deficit reduction measures, it is clear that a disproportionate share have come from conservation. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) calculates that between 2007 and 2010 83% of all cuts to funding levels set in the Farm Bill have come from conservation programs.
These funding cuts not only reduce the capability to put conservation on the ground, but also have a significant longer term effect. Typically, Congress uses the amount appropriated for a conservation program in the last fiscal year before a new Farm Bill is enacted to establish the "baseline" for the program in the next Farm Bill. In other words, it provides the initial funding level for the program, which may increase by small increments over the 5 years of the Farm Bill. As described above, Congress has repeatedly cut appropriations for Farm Bill conservation programs, which will further reduce the funding levels when the next Farm Bill is passed. The over-riding concern among members of the conservation community is that if Congress fails to pass a Farm Bill during the Lame Duck session, an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013 could cut conservation programs even more. We are pressing hard to pass a 5-year Farm Bill over the next few weeks to protect conservation investment from even more damaging cuts than have already been made.
Additionally, enacting a comprehensive Farm Bill affords the best opportunity to successfully include the League's top priorities, including: a nationwide Sodsaver program and relinking conservation compliance with subsidies for crop insurance premiums. While both are included in the Senate version of the Farm Bill, the Farm Bill approved this summer by the House Agriculture Committee fails to include either of them. New alliances are forming between conservation groups and fiscally conservative organizations around these common sense conservation approaches and a significant push will be made during the Lame Duck session to attract leaders and sponsors for amendments for both these provisions.
Sensitive Lands At Risk Unless Congress Takes Action: Failure to pass a Farm Bill prior to expiration left the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) without legal authority to protect new acres. No new enrollments will be permitted in these easement programs until new authorizing legislation is passed. Although legal authority for the Working Lands programs – Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and Farmland Protection Program (FPP) was extended through 2014, the Continuing Resolution passed in September prohibits new enrollments in CSP and cuts $435 million in funding from the Working Lands programs.
If Congress moves to extend the existing Farm Bill into 2013, then it must ensure that new wetland and grassland acres can be protected and that more farmers can participate in the CSP. It is also important that additional disaster assistance not be funded with more cuts to conservation programs.