Appropriations Bill Guts Conservation Funding, Reverses Family Farm Protections

In December the House and Senate came to an agreement over appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2015. We are going to call this like we see it. This is a bad, anti-farmer and anti-conservation bill that is representative of crisis-driven legislation stemming from a dysfunctional Congress.

The spending bill made big cuts to conservation programs. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which supports conservation practices on cropland, pastureland, and rangeland, will face total cuts of $402 million over 10 years. This cut means 2.3 million fewer acres enrolled in the program.

This bill also cut the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) by $136 million for this fiscal year. This program helps those farmers who want to integrate conservation practices in their operation.

While the CSP is designed to reward farmers and ranchers who have a history of integrating conservation, EQIP will help them integrate a conservation practice for the first time. Both support practices such as cover crops, diverse cropping systems, and rotational grazing practices on pasture, rangeland, and cropland restored to a grass-based system.

These are the conservation-based farming practices we need MORE support for, not less. This is especially true in the face of climate change impacts and when considering the need to protect and restore water quality.

Here is where it gets really ugly. They didn’t just cut spending on mandatory programs (meaning the appropriators have no authority or jurisdiction to cut through annual funding bills). They also used this 11th-hour, must-pass legislation to insert really bad policy, know as policy riders.

This bill includes language that prevents the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) from finalizing rules to ensure protections for independent livestock producers and contract fairness for poultry growers. It also repeals some of the current protections for these producers. Adoption of the policy will deny farmers protection from retaliation when they speak out about contract terms with poultry processors, deny them the right to a jury trial, and even deny them the right to know how the prices they receive are calculated.

Using must-pass legislation to not only make huge cuts to critical conservation programs, but to also integrate policy that prevents USDA from implementing provisions that previously passed Congress is horrible. It flies in the face of an open and transparent process. We must seek change and demand open and transparent debate.

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