The U.S. Senate today passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (the Farm Bill) by a vote of 64 to 35. Both Senators Stabenow and Levin from Michigan voted in support of the bill.
The Farm Bill covers a wide range of agricultural issues, including conservation. In fact, The Nature Conservancy considers the Farm Bill the most important legislation for conserving private lands in America.
“We care about the Farm Bill because we care about the environment and Michigan’s natural resources,” said Rich Bowman, The Nature Conservancy’s director of government relations in Michigan. “This bill provides incentives to farmers, forest land owners and other private landowners that result in cleaner water, improved soil conservation, enhanced wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities, increased flood control and economic benefits for local communities and rural economies. And, importantly, these programs help Michigan’s farmers, forest land owners, and other private forest land owners to stay on the land as stewards of America’s natural resources.”
The bill passed today includes support for conservation provisions in three key priority areas: successful and sought-after easement programs, effective working lands programs and partnership programs that leverage cooperative efforts to accomplish conservation in larger landscapes. In Michigan, The Nature Conservancy is working with farmers in the Paw Paw River Watershed to adopt new practices that help reduce runoff and improve the health of rivers and streams in Van Buren County.
“We are grateful for the Senate’s action today, and particularly appreciate the leadership of Senator Stabenow as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. We encourage Michigan’s Congressional Representatives to support similar legislation so a new Farm Bill can be enacted this year. The House of Representatives should hold the line on funding for the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill. Any cuts to conservation funding below the Senate-approved amounts would jeopardize this country’s entire system of successful agricultural and forestry conservation programs,” concluded Bowman. “It is time to move ahead on a Farm Bill with conservation programs that serve not only this, but future generations of Americans.”
Other information relevant to farming and conservation includes:
Seventy percent of the land in the lower 48 states is privately owned. Nearly 900 million acres—or roughly half of the land in the contiguous states—are cropland, rangeland or pasture land and eligible for Farm Bill programs. Another 430 million acres, or 54 percent of America’s forests, are privately owned, making forestland another key Farm Bill resource.
The Farm Bill’s Conservation Title programs are both popular and highly effective. They recognize that the health of America’s soil, water, wildlife, and other natural resources is essential to the long term productivity and economic viability of agriculture and forestry, that protecting and managing our natural resources is critical to the future of American communities, and that most of our nation’s opportunities for hunting, fishing, and observing nature depend upon privately owned habitat on working farms, ranches and forest land.
The Conservation Title programs help to protect these resources in a uniquely successful way—by funding a variety of voluntary partnerships and cooperative conservation efforts between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and private landowners. These conservation programs are essential to the sustainability of U.S. agriculture and forestry and to meeting the growing demand for food and fiber at home and abroad.
Farm Bill Conservation Title programs are high-leverage investments in rural America. Resulting projects catalyze additional public and private investments, creating jobs and energizing local economies. In many parts of the country there are long waiting lists of landowners who would like to participate in such programs as the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Grasslands Reserve Program, and the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.
And because the demand for farm products and increased production are placing ever-greater pressure on soil and water resources, programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, which help landowners undertake conservation practices on working lands, are more needed now than ever.
Since the 2008 farm bill was enacted, Conservation Title programs have already been cut significantly through the annual appropriations process, particularly in the last two agriculture appropriations bills, and these cuts have had real and unfortunate impacts on the ground. The additional significant cuts to conservation funding included in the bill advanced by the Senate Agriculture Committee, if enacted, mean that the Conservation Title is already contributing more than its fair share to budget deficit reduction. While policy improvements can help reduce the impact of these additional cuts, they will, nevertheless have a negative impact on the ground.
Farm Bill conservation programs account for just 7 percent of Farm Bill funding. The total funding level for the Conservation Title was cut by $6 billion from the 2008 Farm Bill level.
For usage-free images of farmers using no-till corn planters in the Paw Paw River Watershed, contact Melissa Molenda at email@example.com.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
Director of Government Relations