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Will Conservation Programs Be Cut?

Will Conservation Programs Be Cut?

Budget cutters in Washington are looking for ways to chop an additional $1.5 trillion from federal spending. Agricultural conservation programs are on the block.

FAQ: A total of 56 groups recently formed a coalition to urge federal budget cutters to protect agricultural conservation programs which protect soil, water and wildlife. I believe these USDA programs provide great public benefit. What is the coalition asking Congress to do?

Answer: Provided by Jennifer Morrill, communications director for American Farmland Trust, the nation's leading conservation organization dedicated to saving America's farm and ranch land, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and supporting a sustainable future for farms.

The national coalition is composed of 56 policy and advocacy organizations and is urging Congress to preserve funding for essential USDA conservation programs and to take additional steps to enhance soil, water quality and wildlife on agricultural land. The coalition has outlined a set of key principles that lawmakers should observe as they write the Conservation Title of the 2012 farm bill and seek ways to trim the federal deficit.

The 56 coalition members are asking Congress to:

  • Put a high priority on funding critical conservation programs at the current baseline level of $6.5 billion a year.
  • Strengthen and enforce provisions that require farmers to implement basic conservation practices in return for farm subsidies and extend them to insurance subsidies.
  • Target conservation dollars where the opportunities for conservation and environmental outcomes are greatest.
  • Streamline existing programs by reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and ramp up their effectiveness by linking payments to performance and focusing more on whole-farm and whole-ranch conservation systems.
  • Ensure that all segments of the farming community – women, minorities and beginning farmers – have access to funding and technical assistance.

The 2011 Survey on Agriculture and Environment shows clearly that Americans overwhelmingly view conservation as an important priority in national farm policy and don't want to see conservation programs cut.

USDA conservation programs are key tools to save resources

USDA's conservation programs are the main tools for implementing best management practices that help crop and livestock producers conserve our nation's soil resources and avoid deposition of nutrient and sediment into our rivers and lakes. Agricultural conservation is also the primary means to protect vital habitat and endangered and threatened species on the privately held land that constitutes the majority of our nation's land base.

Current market pressure and competition for land are aggravating our conservation challenges and threatening to roll back the past gains of federal soil and water conservation programs. The nation will not be able to meet the natural resource and environmental challenges it faces without well-funded and effective conservation provisions in the 2012 farm bill.

Conservation leaders from across America endorse the principles laid out in the group's document:

AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST: "The public and the conservation community are sending a unified message to Capitol Hill: the worthy goals of deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility must not be an excuse to reduce support for conservation. As a matter of national security, it is imperative that we maintain our robust investment in conservation and simultaneously work to make the conservation programs smarter and more efficient," says Jon Scholl, president of the American Farmland Trust.

ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP: "Chronically underfunded conservation programs can't stand up to the pressure we are putting on our land and water," says Craig Cox, senior vice president for ag and natural resources at the Environmental Working Group. "The progress farmers have made is real, but pressing problems remain unaddressed; we will lose the ground we have gained if Congress fails to ensure that conservation intensifies in lock-step with production."

SUSTAINABLE AG COALITION: "With heightened pressures on the ag resource base and with farmer demand for conservation assistance far outstripping the supply of dollars, we need a robust system now more than ever. Congress can meet the challenge if it pays careful attention to these principles," says Ferd Hoefner, policy director of National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE: "There are many ways to improve the farm bill's environmental impact without increasing funding," says Tim Male, vice president for conservation policy at Defenders of Wildlife. "Streamlining programs and better focusing where and how dollars are spent would beef up the USDA's positive impact on wildlife, water and our environment."

IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE: "In a clearly transitional environment for ag policy, where crop insurance has become the dominant means of public support to farmers and special congressional committees may be poised to re-write the broad system of production subsidies, conservation compliance will still serve as a simple and logical covenant between the public and producers that ensures soil and wetland protections accompany the receipt of taxpayer dollars," says Brad Redlin, program director at Izaak Walton League of America.

2012 Farm Bill is scheduled to be finalized next year

The 2012 Farm Bill will encompass a wide array of programs affecting the farming industry, nutrition programs and rural development. Congress is scheduled to finalize the legislation next year, but the Congressional Super Committee is expected to make recommendations in the coming weeks that will likely impact the bill's conservation provisions.

ILLINOIS STEWARDSHIP ALLIANCE: "It's critical that the 2012 Farm Bill funds programs that show proven soil and water conservation benefits and are open to all sectors of ag production, including fruit, vegetable and organic growers. Local foods production deliver is a growing industry and needs to be treated equally," says Claudia Emken, conservation policy advocate for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

Collectively, the 56 organizations supporting the conservation principles represent millions of members and supporters nationwide across a variety of ideologies and interests. These groups and others have worked successfully to protect conservation programs and advocate for additional funding in previous farm bills.

NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION: "The importance and value of conservation programs for clean water, healthy soil and wildlife habitat must be recognized. Not only are these programs critical for ensuring healthy wildlife populations, they also benefit rural economies through revenues from hunting, fishing and other wildlife-based recreation," says Aviva Glaser, agriculture policy coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation.

American Farmland Trust is the nation's leading conservation organization dedicated to saving America's farm and ranch land, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and supporting a sustainable future for farms. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development, AFT has helped save millions of acres of farmland from development and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more. Its national office is in Washington, DC. Phone 202-331-7300, visit

If you have specific questions or need details on USDA farm programs, contact your local USDA Farm Service Agency or other appropriate USDA agency office. And be sure to read the regular column of "Frequently Asked Questions about the Farm Program" appearing in each issue of Wallaces Farmer magazine and at

TAGS: USDA Livestock
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