House Bill Slashes Conservation Funding

The House of Representatives passed their version of the 2012 agriculture appropriations bill on Thursday, June 16 by a narrow vote of 217-203. Nineteen Republicans and all the Democrats opposed the spending bill.

Despite attempts by Representatives Lucas (R-OK), Peterson (D-MN), Blumenauer (D-OR), Farr (D-CA) and Holden (D-PA) to beat back cuts in conservation, the final bill slashes and burns conservation by $1 billion. This is on top of the $500 million already cut from these programs in the continuing resolution passed earlier this year.

The two programs taking the hardest hit are the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

The Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides payments to farmers and ranchers for conservation stewardship of land in agricultural production, is cut by $171 million. Such a cut will require the government to renege on contracts they already signed with farmers and ranchers across the country.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program was cut $350 million. Both these programs have seen significant demand over the years, with long waiting lists of farmers and ranchers who want to implement conservation practices on their land.

The bill took the ax to rural development funding as well. It zeroed out funding for the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program (RMAP), a competitive grants program for organizations that provide training, technical assistance and/ or make small loans to new and existing rural small businesses.

The Value Added Producer Grants program was cut to $12.5 million, which represents nearly half of what went out the door in 2010. The competitive grants program is designed to help producers expand markets and increase their profitability through value-added agricultural enterprises.

The final bill rejected two commodity program amendments. One would have limited eligibility for farm commodity program payments to individuals with annual adjusted gross income of less than $250,000, and the other would have disallowed commodity program payments to individuals and entities in excess of $125,000/farm.

Passage of these amendments would have been a good first step to curbing federal subsidies that mega farms use to drive smaller operations out of business. It also would have demonstrated that cuts in spending will be shared by all.

Instead, the House of Representatives voted to maintain the status quo for those entrenched interests that use their power and money to shape the debate. The Senate can and must do better.

For more information or to comment, contact Traci Bruckner, 402.687.2103 ext. 1016 or tracib@cfra.org.