WASHINGTON, DC – Four leading farm bill reform advocates in the U.S. House of Representatives and two leading national conservation groups today formally objected to a proposal last week by farm bill negotiators to eliminate nearly $1 billion from conservation programs to provide more money for a permanent agricultural disaster assistance fund. U.S. Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI), Paul Ryan (R-WI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) today joined with the Environmental Working Group and Environmental Defense Fund to highlight the importance of conservation programs and encourage the adoption of commonsense reforms that would achieve enough savings to preserve conservation initiatives and other farm bill priorities.
“Conservation programs should not suffer because of misplaced spending priorities,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI). “Increasing conservation funding is vital to address a tremendous unmet need and help more farmers be better stewards of the land. Negotiators should not put these programs on the chopping block in favor of additional subsidies for millionaire farmers who don’t need them. All the negotiators need to do is take a look at some commonsense reforms to the commodity programs to find more than enough savings to fund a vital increase in conservation, as well as other priorities.”
"It is troubling to learn that negotiators may add billions of dollars to a duplicative disaster entitlement program, which would come at the expense of proven conservation programs,” said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). “Absent meaningful reform with our agricultural policies, we will fail in our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment and good stewards of taxpayer dollars."
Farmers in only a few states would monopolize a costly new permanent disaster relief fund, which would shortchange voluntary conservation programs that help farmers in every state protect environmentally fragile areas and provide cleaner water and air. Right now, two out of three farmers and ranchers are denied conservation assistance because of inadequate funding.
“To cut conservation programs to help fund a permanent disaster program is a one-two punch to the environment,” said Sara Hopper, an attorney for Environmental Defense Fund, who was staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee during the 2002 farm bill. “It will encourage intensive crop production on environmentally fragile lands, and there will be less money to deal with the consequences.”
"There is a risk of irreparable environmental damage and the loss of a generation of conservation accomplishments without the minimum increase of $5 billion in new funds over baseline," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.
The great unmet need for conservation dollars – coupled with the current market and economic conditions – make it particularly unreasonable to take money from conservation programs to pay for additional handouts to select producers. The prices of government-subsidized crops are at – or near –unprecedented levels and net farm income has reached a record high.
Reps. Kind, Ryan, Blumenauer and Flake also highlighted common sense reforms they have identified that would allow conferees to develop a fiscally responsible farm bill that still makes needed investments in conservation, while providing a safety net to family farms, when needed. Adopting some – or all – of the reforms would ensure that vital investments in conservation can be made.
“Congress has had many chances to reform the farm bill, but up until now it has missed the mark,” Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) said. “Our priorities should be conservation, nutrition, and rural development, not increased subsidies that do very little for the vast majority of farmers, with 60% of them getting nothing at all.”
Several of the possible reforms highlighted by the members included: reducing direct payments to farmers given record-high commodity prices, means testing farm subsidies to prevent farm households making more than $250,000 from receiving subsidies, capping farm subsidy payments at $250,000 per farmer, and reforming crop insurance to prevent windfalls to insurance agents and companies.