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Farm Bill Draft Ignores Conservation, Enables Waste and Fraud
On July 5 Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson released their draft farm bill ahead of the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill markup next week. The bill generates $35 billion in savings by cutting more than $16 billion from nutrition programs and more than $6 billion from conservation programs, while increasing crop insurance subsidies and decreasing commodity subsidies for a net savings of more than $14 billion.
“NSAC (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition) is pleased that the farm bill process has started in the House and with some of the specific provisions in the bill, but we are overall very disappointed with the draft starting point,” said Ferd Hoefner, NSAC policy director. “This is an anti-reform bill—bad for family farmers, rural communities and the environment. It will need to be reworked very substantially to gain the support of our coalition of farm and rural groups as the process moves forward.”
Under the draft bill, federal crop insurance subsidies would balloon to an unprecedented average of $10 billion per year—with no subsidy caps, no targeting, no income limits and not even minimal conservation requirements. “At a time when our nation faces record deficits, the draft bill is fiscally irresponsible, providing unlimited premium subsidies to the nation’s largest farms and wealthiest landowners,” said Hoefner.
The draft bill would increase the commodity payment limit by 250 percent above the already generous Senate-passed levels, and unlike the Senate-passed bill, would leave wide-open the current loopholes that allow mega-farms and absentee landowners to collect farm payments. “Subsidy loopholes that enable waste, fraud and abuse in commodity programs are alive and well in this bill,” noted Hoefner.
The draft bill significantly limits the tools that farmers have at their disposal to deal with soil and water improvements in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather and production conditions. “A modern, fiscally responsible farm safety net would not just pay farmers for a loss but help them to prevent it in the future,” said Hoefner. “By cutting acreage for the Conservation Stewardship Program by a whopping 30 percent, the draft House bill is telling farmers to ‘go it alone’ if they want to be proactive about smart land management.”
While the draft bill includes a Sodsaver provision to protect native grasslands, the provision is regional—not national—in scope. “The Committee has ignored the call by sportsmen, conservationists and farmers for a national Sodsaver provision,” said Hoefner. “The bill includes a piecemeal Sodsaver provision that would cause administrative headaches and farmer anger over arbitrary lines and inequities.”
The draft bill cuts in half the funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s keystone programs for beginning farmers and minority farmers, and cuts funding for rural economic development by 88 percent when compared to the average funding levels of the past three farm bills.
“Creating jobs in rural America and ensuring the success of the next generation of farmers are national priorities for American agriculture,but the draft House bill punts on funding for these priorities, leaving rural communities and beginning farmers in the lurch,” said Hoefner.
Among the many programs the draft bill repeals is a program that assists organic farmers with the costs of complying with regulations. “Organic is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture,” noted Hoefner. “A repeal of organic certification cost share is an attack on this growth.”
The Committee is scheduled to markup the draft bill on July 11. “The Committee should address these major deficiencies when it meets to markup a bill next week,” said Hoefner. “To the extent that does not happen, we are confident that these will be topics of major amendments when and if the bill reaches the House floor.”
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