As Farm Bill Expires, What’s Next for Conservation?

At midnight on September 30, the 2008 Farm Bill—known officially as the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008—technically expired.  That means that legal authority reverts to permanent law enacted in the 1930’s and 1940’s—a time when current conservation programs did not exist. Yet some programs continue because Congress extended them for the short term through 2014. The uncertainty over the future of farm policy echoes existing concerns from America’s farmers and ranchers, shaped by tremendous pressure to slash spending across all levels of government and a record drought that’s impacted more than 60 percent of the mainland U.S.

The Farm Bill is where, every five years, American’s draw a compact to protect fragile farmland, restore our wetlands and keep our landscape healthy.  The Farm Bill also authorizes and funds commodity programs and nutrition programs such as food stamps. A new Farm Bill passed in the Senate, as well as the version later released by the House Agriculture Committee, showed bipartisan support that proved fair to conservation programs in the toughest budget climate imaginable. Still, Congress’s failure to pass the strongly bi-partisan 2012 Farm Bill on schedule has frustrated many on both sides of the aisle.  What will the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill mean for those conservation programs that help the nation’s farmers remain good stewards of the land?

Glossary: Funding in the Farm Bill

Authorization bill: An act or law of Congress that legally establishes, renews or extends a government agency or program. For the Farm Bill, previous legal authorization expires with the passage of time unless renewed or extended.

Mandatory funding: funding for entitlements and related priorities as determined by Congress; farm subsidies and food stamp programs are usually marked with this status as are some Farm Bill conservation programs.

Discretionary funding: funding for bills  requiring annual appropriations by Congress and thus subject to  periodic cutting through the appropriations process due to budget constraints; some conservation funding  falls into this category, such as the Small Watershed Program and costs for most USDA staff.

Impact of 2008 Farm Bill Expiration on Conservation Programs

Program Expiration Impact
Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) FRPP continues through 2014 both in terms of authorization and use of mandatory funding from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation.  (The change in date from 2012 to 2014 was included in the Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations bill.)

 

 

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)

Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP)

Continue through 2014 for authorization and mandatory funding for existing contracts.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program(EQIP) Continue through 2014 for authorization and mandatory funding. 60% of EQIP funding for livestock terminates. More funding could go to crop-related conservation.
EQIP Air Quality Initiative Mandatory funding terminates.
Adjusted Gross Income Limitation Limits Terminate for conservation programs.
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)

Mandatory funding for new enrollments acres terminates, but funding for acreage currently enrolled continues, limiting program growth.
Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) Mandatory funding terminates.
Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI) Mandatory funding terminates.
USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service(NRCS) Authority for NRCS conservation operations continues. Funding for technical assistance (other than Farm Bill programs) is covered by theContinuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013.

Looking Ahead

Though the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill has not immediately halted some of the bigger conservation programs, further delay in passing the next Farm Bill risks leaving farmers and ranchers with too much uncertainty to plan for the future. While conservation is only partially hindered, other areas will be harder hit, for example dairy and parts of trade.

Agricultural leaders in Congress worked hard to put together thoughtful, logical and deliberate approaches to conservation programs.  However, the current Congress ends at the end of this year and a new Congress begins on January 1, 2013, so the farm bill process would need to begin all over again unless Congress acts.  Failure to heed  the call for a new Farm Bill soon will risk losing all the good work, the carefully shaped compromise, and the improvements in effectiveness and efficiency in conservation programs that has already been crafted.

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  • Random Quote

    “Since 1985, compliance has been a successful part of farm policy. As crop and revenue insurance becomes the core of agriculture’s financial safety net, we need to retain the same commitment to conservation that has been a part of past farm programs.” — Jon Scholl, President, American Farmland Trust