November 13, 2012
On Monday, November 12, NSAC and 42 other organizations sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) urging the House to work with the Senate to complete a full five-year Farm Bill this year — one that, among other things, sustains the effectiveness of the Conservation Title of the bill in continuing what is a longstanding and successful partnership between the federal government and America’s farmers and ranchers to protect our nation’s exceptional soil, water and wildlife resources.
“We believe a bill that takes on the best conservation provisions from the Senate-passed and House Committee-passed bills is quite possible to achieve even in the limited amount of time left in this session of Congress,” the letter continues. “The Senate and the House Agriculture Committee clearly agree on the value of the Conservation Title since their versions of the bill are substantially the same and have received strong bi-partisan support.”
While the 43 groups strongly prefer a full five-year farm bill reauthorization, the letter notes that an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill may become necessary as Congress attempts to deal with the looming fiscal cliff before Christmas. Under that scenario, Congress would need to take steps to ensure that USDA is able to enroll farmers and ranchers in conservation programs in FY 2013.
Five major conservation programs — the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), and Chesapeake Bay Conservation Initiative (CBWI) — are currently shut down for FY 2013. Authority for CRP, WRP, GRP, and CBWI expired with the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill on September 30, 2012. While CSP retains authority in FY 2013, it was unintentionally stripped of funding for new enrollments by the FY 2013 continuing appropriations resolution.
The letter also reinforces a message that many have been sending over the last several months — that Congress must not use long-term conservation funding to pay for short-term disaster aid. Remember that this is exactly what the House attempted to do in late August in a stand-alone drought relief bill.
“Should an extension of the old bill become necessary,” the letter states, “then we urge you to extend all conservation programs in a manner that allows for 2013 enrollments without any further delay or interruption. The extension should include the technical fix to allow for the 2013 CSP enrollment. In addition, conservation funding must not be cut to pay for disaster assistance or other pieces of an extension bill requiring offsets. Cutting conservation to pay for disaster aid is extremely shortsighted, limiting the very activities that will reduce the impact of future droughts and floods by building greater resiliency into farming operations.”