What is in this article?:
- Commodity groups praise House, Senate bills.
- Environmental groups express displeasure.
- Bill passes with bipartisan support.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition sees some positive aspects of the House farm bill but expressed disappointment with many proposals that are being embraced by commodity groups.
The bill, according to a coalition release, includes a variety of major priorities of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, along with several serious setbacks for farmers, natural resource conservation, and rural development.
The good, the statement reports, includes restored funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. It also restores and increases funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. All three programs received more funding in the new House bill than in the bill reported by the Senate Agriculture Committee.
NSAC also praises the Farm to School pilot projects for school districts in the USDA Foods and the Department of Defense “Fresh” programs. NSAC also likes the Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management insurance program for farms growing a diversity of crops and livestock, included in both bills. The bill includes a variety of other provisions based on the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act.
In other areas, said Ferd Hoefner, NSAC policy director, “the bill is a major disappointment. The bill includes no major reforms beyond the preordained elimination of direct payments. “There is little farm program reform in the Agriculture Reform bill. It reinvests most of the savings from direct payments back into new commodity and crop insurance subsidies. It increases the per farm commodity subsidy limitation by 92 percent and leaves in place current loopholes that allow individual farms to collect unlimited payments. It places no caps whatsoever on farm insurance subsidies. We intend to see that these failings get a second review when the bill heads to the House floor.”
The National Wildlife Federation also expressed disappointment. “Julie Sibbing, director of Agriculture and Forestry Programs, for NWF said, “While we appreciate the difficult task of drafting a bill to achieve deficit reductions, the committee missed important opportunities to save taxpayer dollars through commonsense conservation measures for soil, water and wildlife.”
NWF also objects to exclusion of the provision included in the Senate committee bill that would link soil and wetlands protection to crop insurance premium subsidies.”
That provision is roundly criticized by commodity organizations.
“We are very disappointed that Chairman Lucas chose to leave out this important provision supported by a broad coalition of conservation, agricultural and crop insurance interests,” Sibbing said.
She said the House bill included “a weak, geographically limited version of Sodsaver, which protects native grasslands by limiting federal subsidies for producers who convert previously unplowed prairie lands. The House version of Sodsaver is unfairly limited to parts of five states in the Northern Great Plains.
Other attempts to improve the farm bill for wildlife were also suppressed, she said, including maintaining adequate investments for wildlife practices within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
NWF recommends improvements when the House version comes up for a full floor vote, including:
- Sensible requirements for farmers to refrain from draining wetlands and practice conservation on highly erodible land in exchange for taxpayer subsidies,
- A national Sodsaver provision to protect native prairies, and
- Adequate levels of funding to help farmers and ranchers protect wildlife.