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House Farm Bill Would Cut $6 Billion From Conservation Programs Over 10 Years

Friday, July 6, 2012

House Agriculture Committee Draft Farm Bill

Key Development: The House Agriculture Committee releases its draft 2012 farm bill, which would cut $6 billion over 10 years from conservation programs and save $500 million by eliminating mandatory energy spending and reducing discretionary energy spending.

What's Next: The committee plans to hold a markup July 11.

By Amena H. Saiyid  

Agriculture conservation programs face spending cuts of at least $6 billion over the next 10 years under a draft version of the 2012 farm bill that the House Agriculture Committee released July 5.

Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) justified the cuts to the conservation programs in the draft Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM). They said the draft bill takes a comprehensive look, as opposed to a “piecemeal approach,” to conservation programs.

The draft bill also would eliminate mandatory funding for energy programs and would reauthorize programs at reduced discretionary funding levels that will save taxpayers more than $500 million, according to a summary released by the committee.

The draft bill would streamline current energy programs and repeal five that have outlived their usefulness, the summary said. They are the Repowering Assistance Program, the Biofuels Infrastructure Study, and the Renewable Fertilizer Study, the Rural Energy Self-sufficiency Initiative, and the Forest Biomass for Energy Programs.

On the issue of conservation, Lucas and Peterson said Congress has created more than 20 farm bill conservation programs since 1985, “some of which are regional initiatives and many of them have overlapping functions or goals.”

Both lawmakers described the draft legislation as “a bipartisan bill that saves taxpayers billions, reduces the nation's deficit, and repeals outdated policies while reforming, streamlining, and consolidating others.”

The draft bill would reauthorize agriculture and conservation programs for fiscal years 2013 through 2017. It also would reauthorize funding for renewable energy programs

Markup Expected July 11.

The Agriculture Committee is expected to mark up the bill July 11.

The current five-year farm bill, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Pub. L. No. 110-234), authorized conservation programs on farmlands and rangelands and renewable energy programs through Sept. 30, 2012.

The House bill's conservation title is largely similar to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 3240) that the Senate passed June 21 (120 DEN A-13, 6/22/12).

The House bill, like S. 3240, achieves $6 billion in savings over 10 years by streamlining and consolidating existing conservation programs and capping acreage enrollment.

Like S. 33240, the House bill has proposed to cap acreage enrollment under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) at 25 million acres in 2017, down from the existing 32 million acres authorized under the 2008 farm bill.

Also under the House bill, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) would see its enrollment capped at 9 million acres, down from the nearly 13 million acres currently allowed. S. 3240 allowed 10.3 million acres.

Two Conservation Programs.

Under CRP, the Agriculture Department makes annual payments to farmers and ranchers and provides them with cost-share assistance to use certain plants to improve water quality and control soil erosion, which USDA said leads to better wildlife habitat.

In the CSP, the department pays farmers and ranchers to undertake conservation activities, such as improving drainage and reducing erosion, that the states have identified as priorities on working lands.

CRP is run by USDA's Farm Service Agency, while the CSP is run by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Like S. 3240, the House bill would consolidate existing easement programs into one program, the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program. And like S. 3240, it would take four regional initiatives, including the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes initiatives, and turn them into a single program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

On energy programs, the draft bill provides loan guarantees for farmers and ranchers under the Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, for renewable energy systems such as anaerobic digesters, solar or wind projects, and energy efficiency measures. Loans under REAP also would be available for energy audits.

In an effort to target funding, the authority for feasibility studies under REAP would be eliminated and a new definition for renewable energy systems would be created to clarify congressional intent by eliminating funding for ethanol blender pumps, according to the summary of the bill.

The bill also would authorize loan guarantees for the Biorefinery Assistance Program, targeting the construction or retrofitting of biorefineries that will enable the commercial-scale production of advanced biofuels. The bill would eliminate grant authority for demonstration facilities, the summary said.

By Amena H. Saiyid  


A summary of the FARRM bill is available at http://agriculture.house.gov/pdf/FARRM_Summary.pdf.

The text of the draft FARRM bill is available at http://agriculture.house.gov/pdf/legislation/FARRMDiscussionDraft.pdf.