March 1, 2011
On Tuesday, March 1, NSAC delivered two letters to Senate offices in opposition to the sustainable agriculture cuts contained in H.R. 1, the House-passed Continuing Resolution (CR). The first letter was signed by 154 grassroots organizations from throughout the country, while the second letter was signed by 35 national conservation organizations.
The common thread, running through both the grassroots letter and the national conservation group letter, is that H.R. 1 targets agriculture and rural America for a disproportionate share of the proposed cuts. USDA and FDA discretionary spending is cut 22 percent, relative to the non-defense average of 14 percent. Both letters argue that the proposed cuts threaten rural economies, natural resources, and livelihoods.
Moreover, both letters give specific attention to cuts to mandatory program funding, noting that H.R. 1 singles out mandatory funding for conservation and renewable energy programs provided by the 2008 Farm Bill, which passed both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support. H.R. 1 would cut over a half billion dollars from the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetland Reserve Program, and Biomass Crop Assistance Program relative to the direct spending levels provided by the 2008 Farm Bill. These cuts to mandatory programs would put additional pressure on an already fragile farm bill baseline only a year before a new bill must be written.
The grassroots letter urges the Senate to reject the 22 percent cut in agriculture funding, and instead support a net freeze in discretionary spending. The letter argues that H.R. 1 unfairly targets conservation, agricultural research, rural development, and beginning and minority farmers rather than addressing massive commodity and crop insurance subsidies in a year of relatively high farm income.
The grassroots letter points out that, in addition to major cuts to agricultural research and extension, rural development, and domestic and international feeding programs, H.R. 1 would eliminate funding completely for the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA), Organic Transitions Research Program, Office of Advocacy and Outreach (to coordinate policy and outreach to beginning, women, and minority farmers), and the Office of Tribal Relations. According to the signatories, “These are programs that with minimal resources are charged with serving the most chronically underserved segments of agriculture. Slating programs of such small means for termination suggests a motive that has little to do with deficit reduction.”
The grassroots letter continues, “at a time of extremely tight credit markets and increased demand for Farm Services Agency (FSA) farm credit, H.R.1 would cut FSA Direct Operating loans by 10% or $100 million and Direct Farm Ownership loans by 27% or $175 million, and would completely eliminate funding for Conservation Loans. The majority of direct lending is targeted to beginning and minority farmers and ranchers although in these tough times many established farmers have had to turn to FSA direct loans to keep operating. Cuts to such an important source of credit in the countryside will only further delay economic recovery in rural America.”
The second letter—signed by 35 national organizations—focuses more specifically on cuts to mandatory conservation program spending, urging the Senate to “minimize cuts to mandatory funding in the appropriations bill and to preserve the farm bill baseline.”
The letter states, “With increased pressures on working lands to produce food, feed, fuel, and fiber for our nation and the world, both farm bill conservation programs and discretionary funding for technical assistance are needed now more than ever. These conservation programs are crucial to the health and viability of agriculture and rural America. They help farmers, ranchers and foresters to voluntarily address their key resource concerns and assist them in complying with local, state, and federal regulations. They deliver demonstrated environmental benefits including clean air, clean water, and abundant habitat for wildlife. They protect soil and farmland to provide lasting food security. And they support existing rural economies as well as bringing in important sources of new money and jobs, including increased revenues from hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities.
“The demand for enrollment in these programs routinely exceeds the funds available, even without any cuts. Farmers and ranchers are waiting to enroll over 1,000,000 acres in the Wetlands Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program. Applications for the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program often outstrip available funds by two to three times. Failure to support our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and natural resource base today will jeopardize our agricultural industry, drive up long term costs for environmental mitigation, and threaten our nation’s food security.”
NSAC will continue to fight for fair and adequate funding for conservation, rural development, and agricultural research programs throughout the appropriations process. We will continue to provide up-to-date information as the process unfolds. In the meantime, you can review our post on H.R. 1. To take action in support of sustainable agriculture funding priorities, go to our action alert.
Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill, Research, Education & Extension, Rural Development