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'Spend conservation funds properly'

Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Rural Development and Research, Leland, Miss., producer Marc Curtis said growers will actively oppose any attempt to amend, alter, or divert funding away from farm bill programs as signed into law just over a year ago.

“Farmers need a consistent, predictable, long-term policy in order to make sound investment, cropping and marketing decisions, and to compete in a world market replete with subsidies, tariffs and non-tariff barriers,” he said.

“The initial optimism, which followed passage of the 2002 Farm Bill, has given way to concern because of the ongoing debate over funding sources for technical assistance,” said Curtis, speaking on behalf of five commodity organizations. “It appears the interpretation of the provisions of the new farm law and recent language added to the omnibus appropriations measure will erode program resources as well as the confidence and support of our members.”

The members Curtis referred to include producers in the National Cotton Council, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, and the USA Rice Federation.

Early indications, Curtis said, are that USDA is looking for ways to artificially constrain conservation programs through reduced funding.

“While we realize that the federal government is not about to throw about the doors of the federal treasury and hand us a pitchfork to start shoveling out the dough, it seemed clear that the intent of Congress was for the Conservation Security Program to be a program for all producers on all working lands addressing one of more resources of concern on all or part of their farming operation,” he said.

He points to the EQIP program as another example of possible budgetary shenanigans. “The EQIP program was initially authorized at $700 million, which was then reduced to $695 million as a result of appropriations actions. It now stands as a $588 million program as a result of the interpretation that requires EQIP to contribute toward the technical assistance requirements of the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program.”

In addition, Curtis refers to changing eligibility requirements for conservation programs as, “rules cooked up by pencil pushers with green eyeshades, not by those are concerned about the good conservation stewardship of our land.”

Testimony at the June 5 hearing by the National Farmers Union echoed much of what Curtis said.

"Farmers Union members and others worked hard for this farm bill and they want the programs that they supported to be included and implemented the way Congress intended," said Terry Detrick, vice president of the Oklahoma Farmers Union.

Detrick said the White House Office of Management and Budget decision ordering USDA to not fully fund technical components of conservation programs is wrong for conservation programs and wrong for farmers and ranchers.

He also asked that funds from NRCS’ discretionary conservation operations not be used to supplement mandatory farm bill conservation programs, because these funds are “crucial” for the non-farm bill conservation responsibilities of the NRCS.

"The issue before us today centers around the amount and source of money for the farm bill conservation programs, and this includes the technical assistance provided to farmers and ranchers that must implement complex conservation systems on their working lands," he said.

"We believe the money for technical assistance should come from the conservation program accounts themselves, and we support your bipartisan efforts on H.R. 1907 to address the funding dilemma that has been created for some of these agricultural conservation programs."

Adds Curtis, “Clearly there are increasing pressures to restrain domestic spending, but the farm law was written in compliance with the Budget Resolution in effect at that time. Therefore, the programs authorized in the Farm Bill, and signed into law by the President just over a year ago, should be implemented as authorized.”

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