This week NSAC signed onto letters to Congress concerning conservation, rural development, and fair competition provisions of the House and Senate farm bills, ahead of what could still possibly be an August replete with Agriculture Committee staff meetings to begin to work out the details of a final farm bill.
NSAC was one of 20 national conservation organizations delivering a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, urging the two chambers to begin conference negotiations on a farm bill as soon as possible. The letter outlines the growing need for conservation funding and encourages the Committees “to continue to look for ways to reduce or eliminate conservation cuts during conference.”
“If, however, you decide that cuts must be made,” the letter continues, “we want to be on record as strongly objecting to net Conservation Title cuts in excess of the $3.5 billion in the Senate-passed farm bill.”
Beyond conservation funding, the groups list several policy priorities that they argue must be included in a final conference report. These include reattaching conservation compliance to federal crop insurance subsidies, establishing a nationwide Sodsaver provision, and giving USDA rather than OMB the authority to determine the proportion of mandatory money will be apportioned for technical assistance for each program.
NSAC and a dozen NSAC member organizations were among the 24 national and regional organizations sending a letter to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees as part of the Campaign for a Renewed Rural Development. The letter urges completion of a comprehensive farm bill this September, but notes that farm bill funding for rural programs is considerably less in both the Senate and House bills than it has been in recent farm bills.
The letter urges the farm bill conference to find additional money to invest in rural development programs and in no case to accept less than the $227 million provided in the Senate bill. The letter specifically supports maximum funding for two NSAC priority programs – Value-Added Producer Grants and Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance.
Fair Markets and Contracts
NSAC joined 68 other national and state farm and rural organizations, including 20 NSAC member groups, in a letter urging Agriculture Committee leaders and conferees to reject a section of the House-passed farm bill that undermines USDA authority to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act. The radical, far-reaching House provision would in essence turn the Packers and Stockyards Act into an empty shell, restricting USDA from doing almost anything to address deceptive, fraudulent, retaliatory, and anti-competitive practices by the highly concentrated meatpacking and poultry processing sectors. The letter urges the farm bill conferees to “allow farmers and ranchers to prosper in a business environment based on mutual cooperation and fair business standards, not fear, coercion and retaliation.”
Whether or not a farm bill conference takes place in September remains to be seen. While the Senate has named its conferees and is ready to conference, the House majority has decided to try to pass a partisan food stamp program bill in September, delaying any hope for a conference to begin quickly and quite possibly dooming the chances for a new farm bill this year. The letters sent this week are nonetheless important as there is still a chance the process will not completely unravel in the face of the House Republican war on the food stamp program.