The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing, Drought, Fire and Freeze: The Economics of Disasters for America’s Agricultural Producers, on last year’s natural disasters and the impact to agriculture. Much of the hearing focused on the beneficial role conservation practices play in helping farmers recover from natural disasters and maintaining healthy, resilient soil. One panelist, Jeff Send who is a tart cherry producer from Michigan, highlighted how a conservation easement through the federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) helps to maintain the economic viability of his operation.
The Senate has also introduced legislation to avoid automatic cuts on March 1 to federal programs known as the sequester. Farm programs would be included as part of the package with elimination of direct payments to farmers. That measure would result in savings of $27.5 billion and a remaining $3.5 billion going to pay for a variety of other programs including conservation, disaster assistance, renewable energy, rural development, hunger prevention, agriculture research, organic certification, and specialty crop programs that were not included in the extension. American Farmland Trust applauds the measure to extend programs that are vital for maintaining productive farms and healthy farmland.
The Senate Agriculture Committee has announced a final roster of subcommittee leaders and members. Leading the Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources will be Chairman Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-Ark.). Joining the Senate Agriculture Committee is Sen. William Cowan (D-Mass.), who was named to serve after the resignation from the Senate of Secretary of State John Kerry. Sen. Cowan takes the agriculture committee seat of Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) who left the agriculture committee for the Senate Finance Committee.
The House Agriculture Committee approved its oversight plan which lays out the committees agenda and sets key policy issues in the Committee’s jurisdiction that will be examined. House Agriculture Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) has also named Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) to fill the final Democratic seat on the committee.
House Agriculture Committee members Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) this week reintroduced the Protect Our Prairies Act which would establish a national sodsaver program. The program would limit federal assistance to farmers who break native prairie and grasslands for conversion to crop production. AFT President Jon Scholl offered praise and support to Reps. Noem and Walz for reintroducing the measure.
Climate change and the ongoing drought were both included in this week’s State of the Union delivered to the Congress by President Obama. Climate change remains a priority for American Farmland Trust as Congress and the Administration consider options to address its causes and consequences. One option was introduced this week, a carbon tax bill which was offered by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). With partisan disagreement in the Congress on climate change, a legislative path forward is not clear.
And American Farmland Trust was pleased to report exciting new survey findings this week that at least 5 million acres have been protectednationally through state and local purchase of agricultural conservation easement (PACE) programs and private land trusts.Thousands of communities benefit from protected farms and ranches for local production of food, fiber and environmental benefits as well as value-added enterprises.