September 11, 2012
On Tuesday, September 11, 30 organizations including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation partnership delivered a letter to Congress rejecting the notion that cuts to farm bill conservation funding should be used to pay for short-term disaster assistance.
The Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2012 (H.R. 6233), which the House passed just prior to August recess, would cut $639 million from the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to provide $383 million in disaster aid. The Senate has not passed a stand-alone drought relief bill, with Senate leaders correctly pointing out that the Senate-passed farm bill includes comprehensive disaster relief.
The letter states:
We the undersigned organizations understand the need to address disaster assistance and continue to believe the best way to accomplish that objective is to finalize a 5-year farm bill. The Senate-passed and House Committee-passed 5-year farm bills, though not the stand-alone House-passed disaster bill, include comprehensive disaster aid. The best disaster assistance bill is a new long-term farm bill and we encourage you to get the job done and pass a new farm bill yet this year.
If, however, a disaster relief package is brought to the floor as a stand-alone bill or included in a farm bill extension measure, we urge that mandatory farm bill conservation funding not be cut to pay for disaster assistance.
Cutting conservation funding to pay for drought assistance is short-sighted and would worsen the impacts of future droughts and other extreme weather events by cutting the very programs that help build disaster resiliency into farming operations.
Beyond its failure to meet the test of basic fairness, the use of conservation funding to pay for short-term drought relief would stand in direct opposition to the interests of most farmers in America. The letter points to a recent poll that found that 71 percent of farmers across 13 farm states oppose paying for short-term drought relief by cutting conservation programs.
“With a historic drought in the countryside,” the letter concludes, “we need to reward farmers and ranchers for smart, proactive land and resource management, not cut the long-term conservation programs upon which they depend.”