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December 20, 2013
Enviro programs depend on new Farm Bill

More than a year after the 2008 Farm Bill expired, Congress has yet to come together to agree on a reauthorization package to send to the president.  Everyone agrees that reauthorization is necessary, but lawmakers have been unable to resolve differences in conflicting House and Senate proposals.  Major issues of disagreement include cuts to the food stamp program (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), crop insurance, phasing out direct government payments to farmers, and price protection. 

As many have pointed out, the Farm Bill is not just about farming.  Historically, it supports many major environmental and energy programs.  Some of these have been extended while others remain unfunded, unauthorized, or without enactment of needed reforms, the same state of affairs affecting some core agricultural programs.

White House report

The Obama administration recently reminded the Congress that it began making recommendations on how to improve the Farm Bill in June 2010.  In a recent report, the administration provided a long and detailed list of all that rides on reauthorization.  Key environmental and energy issues in that list include the following:

  • A comprehensive Farm Bill with funding for water and wastewater investments would help tackle the $2.1 backlog of shovel-ready water/wastewater infrastructure projects in small towns across the country.  The report notes that since 2009, Farm Bill rural development programs have financed 3,898 rural water and wastewater projects, putting people to work and providing clean water for nearly 14 million rural Americans.
  • The bill would advance the bioeconomy through continued investment in the next generation of advanced biofuels, construction of advanced biorefineries, research, support for farmers establishing new biofuel crops, and the manufacture of biobased industrial products.  Currently, more than 3,000 companies produce biobased industrial products—from chemicals to auto parts to beverage bottles—from homegrown, plant-based materials. 
  • The bill would reauthorize the Renewable Energy for America program, which provides grants and guaranteed loans to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for the purchase of renewable energy systems and the implementation of energy-efficiency projects.  In the last 4 years, this program has provided 9,166 awards, saving or generating a total of over 9.8 million megawatt hours of energy.
  • The bill would continue the Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred program, which has helped create thousands of new jobs in rural communities and added jobs across the value chain even in larger manufacturing cities by using agricultural and forestry commodities as the base feedstock for everyday products.
  • The Farm Bill represents the nation’s largest investment supporting the voluntary and successful conservation, restoration, and management of working lands.  Specific activities authorized include:
    • The Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives programs, which provide financial and technical assistance to farmers to install or maintain conservation practices on land in production. 
    • Comprehensive conservation and habitat programs that help farmers, ranchers, and private landowners protect and conserve environmentally sensitive land and produce wildlife habitat from agricultural production in exchange for rental or easement payments.
    • Agricultural land acquisition programs like the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program that provide assistance to cooperating partners to purchase land rights, helping sustain the ranching and farming way of life and their surrounding rural communities.

    Members of both congressional houses are currently in conference in an effort to resolve differences blocking reauthorization.

    The White House report.