Washington, DC (July 27, 2007)- The 2007 Farm Bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives today. The bill, passed by a vote of 231-191, increases funding for conservation, nutrition, and renewable energy. Conservation spending is increased by $4.6 billion, nutrition program spending by $4 billion, and renewable energy efforts by $2.5 billion.
Every five to seven years, Congress approves what has become known as The Farm Bill, setting U.S. agricultural policy, via scores of programs. Dating back to The Great Depression, when about 20 percent of our population was employed in agriculture (compared to less than 3 percent these days), the bill has not changed as much as you might think, over the decades.
From the 1930s through the 1950s, the Bill was mostly about crop prices and subsidies, with a heavy focus on so-called commodity agriculture. Typically, this designation does not include most fruits and vegetables. The 1960s and 1970s saw a big expansion into feeding and nutrition, with the introduction of food stamps. For the first time, urban groups had an interest in the Farm Bill, and cooperated with their rural cousins by staying out of each other’s way, and giving support when it was needed. In the 1980s and 1990s, conservation and environmental issues were added. In the 1990s and into the 2000s, more than half of the funds go to nutrition programs.
“In the area of conservation, the bill improves access to, and funding for, initiatives that take environmentally sensitive lands out of production,” said Pelosi. “It encourages environmentally friendly practices on working lands. And it will invest 30 percent more to preserve farm and ranchland, improve water quality, enhance soil conservation, air quality, and wildlife habitat on working lands.” Since one-half of American land is managed by farmers and ranchers, the environmental issues are staggering.
Overall, conservation spending will increase about 35 percent. The House has done much to enhance programs like the Farm and Ranch Land Protection program (increased to $280 million annually), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (increased to $2 billion annually for water quality, air quality, forestry, and programs to include socially disadvantaged farmers), and expanded the Cooperative Conservation program so farmers will be more effective by working together to address environmental issues.
While environmentalists acknowledged these advances, some said they will go nowhere because there is not enough funding in the bill to support them. “As the bill currently stands, the Conservation Security Program will not be able to accept new enrollments for the life of this farm bill, cutting off support for many environmentally conscientious farmers and ranchers who are striving to achieve the highest levels of conservation stewardship on their land,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife and head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Clinton administration.
“The Grasslands Reserve Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program are also funded well below urgently needed levels,” said Clark. “We are disappointed that the House opted against adopting several measures offered on the floor to increase conservation funding.” Clark is now looking to the Senate, which is expected to begin considering its version of the Farm Bill in September. “We urge the Senate to secure the funding increases necessary to provide the full suite of conservation programs to farmers and ranchers who wish to improve their stewardship practices and to protect and enhance wildlife habitat on their land.”
Some other provisions of the 2007 Farm Bill as passed today by the U.S. House of Representatives:
* The Chesapeake Bay Program for Nutrient Reduction and Sediment Control includes $150 million in new mandatory funding and directs the Secretary of Agriculture to develop a comprehensive plan for restoring, preserving, and protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed starting with the Susquehanna, Shenandoah, Patuxent, and Potomac Rivers.
* The $25 million Chesapeake Bay Comprehensive Conservation Planning Pilot Program undertakes comprehensive conservation planning to assist producers before they submit an application for conservation assistance.
* The bill authorizes the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, EQIP, clarifying forest land as eligible for the program, and provides $8.6 billion over five years. EQIP offers financial and technical help to assist farmers install or implement structural and management practices on eligible agricultural land.
* The bill reauthorizes the Healthy Forests Reserve Program and provides $17 million a year for five years. Participants agree to conserve and manage endangered species habitat and in exchange, they are protected from additional regulatory burdens.
* The bill establishes a new program, the Emergency Forest Restoration Program, to assist private forest owners with restoration following disasters such as gypsy moth infestations, hurricanes and wildfires.
* The only item to be included in the Forestry Title was the reauthorization of Community and Private Land Fire Assistance program through 2012. Original authorization language can be viewed below. The Administration had proposed several items for the forestry title, including a community and suburban forest land acquisition program, but these were not included in the House’s Farm Bill.
Community and Private Land Fire Assistance program original authorization language
Environmental News Service
Health News Digest