House Approved Farm Bill Threatens Future of Farmland Conservation Programs
The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday voted by a margin of 216 to 208, taking the precarious step of passing a farm policy-only version of the Farm Bill that House leaders brought back to the floor. This modified version of the Farm Bill for the first time in 40 years did not include nutrition title programs, which comprise roughly 80 percent of spending under the original bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee. American Farmland Trust joined with more than 532 national, state and local organizations opposing splitting the Farm Bill into farm and nutrition components. Absence of nutrition title programs resulted in strong Democratic opposition to the historically bi-partisan Farm Bill with all Democrats voting against the modified bill.
While the House-passed bill includes a five year reauthorization for conservation programs, the modified version also repeals 1949 permanent authority for commodity and dairy assistance and instead would make the 2013 House commodity title permanent law. The 1949 permanent law has provided the backstop for modern Farm Bill reauthorizations to be passed. Loss of permanent law would be a disaster for farmland conservation and other non-commodity programs. Without that policy backstop, there is real danger that conservation, rural development, forestry, energy and other programs will never be reauthorized in the future since they have no permanent authorization.
American Farmland Trust Needs Your Help!
Thank you to everyone who has already reached out to your members of Congress to tell them that farmland conservation remains a top priority. But we still need your help to bring a strong, unified voice to halls of the Capitol. Visit the American Farmland Trust Action Center today to send a letter to your Senators and Representatives telling them how important conservation is to you and your community both now and in the future.
What Is Next for the Farm Bill?
Focus will now begin work on a conference report to reconcile the vast differences between the two bills. Exact timing is uncertain as the leadership in both the House and Senate must name conferees and move to conference the bills. This next phase will be critical for conservation because important decisions will be negotiated to create a conference report, or a final bill to be approved for the President’s signature by the House and Senate.
American Farmland Trust remains committed to getting a comprehensive five-year farm bill passed which includes full reauthorization of farmland conservation programs, that re-establishes the link between conservation compliance and crop insurance premium assistance, and that reinvests in programs to help beginning farmers, to promote farmers markets, and to help keep farmers on the land.
American Farmland Trust Supports Conservation Technical Assistance
With House floor activity complete on the Farm Bill, focus can now shift to the fiscal year 2014 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which includes funding for NRCS Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA). A letter was sent this week to the House of Representatives signed by American Farmland Trust along with farm and conservation groups urging support for CTA in the FY14 bill. The agriculture appropriations bill could be considered on the House floor as early as next week.
To further support funding for CTA, American Farmland Trust joined with the National Association of Conservation Districts in hosting a briefing for Congressional staffers on Friday, July 12 to educate them on the importance of CTA for conservation planning. American Farmland Trust President Andrew McElwaine and National Association of Conservation District President Earl Garber led the briefing with staff and emphasized the importance of CTA for protecting farmland and getting sound practices in place.
USDA Announces Sentinel Landscapes Pilot in Puget Sound
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a federal, local and private collaboration called the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership to preserve agricultural lands, assist with military readiness and restore and protect wildlife habitat. USDA, working in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and Department of Defense (DOD) will work together near military installations to help farmers and ranchers make improvements to the land that benefit their operation, enhance wildlife habitat, and enable DOD’s training missions to continue. The initial pilot Sentinel Landscape will work in the South Puget Sound region of Washington State which is home to Joint Base Lewis-McCord.
Maintaining buffers surrounding military installations is of critical importance both for military readiness and to prevent encroachment of development surrounding bases. This concept was evident in June when a military jet crashed into a farm field shortly after takeoff in Arizona. American Farmland Trust has worked historically in this area, issuing a report in 2006 titled Working to Preserve Farm, Forests and Ranch Lands: A Guide for Military Installations.
President Nominates Deputy Secretary, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment
President Obama recently announced his nominations for two key posts at USDA, naming Krysta Harden for the position of Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Robert Bonnie for the position of Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment.
Harden currently serves as Chief of Staff to Secretary Tom Vilsack and has also served as Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations. Before joining the administration, she served as Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Conservation Districts, represented the American Soybean Association, and worked in a variety of positions on Capitol Hill including subcommittee staff director on the House Agriculture Committee.
Bonnie currently serves as a senior policy advisor at USDA. Prior to serving in the administration, he worked as Vice President of Land Conservation and Wildlife for the Environmental Defense Fund and as Managing Director of the Center for Conservation Incentives.
Both nominations require Senate confirmation. The Senate Agriculture Committee may begin that process as early this month.