Categorized | Agriculture

Committees Move Forward with Plans to Pass a Farm Bill in 2012

Senate Agricultural Committee Chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow (D – MI) announced last week that the Senate and House agricultural committees would work to pass a new Farm Bill in 2012, with the goal of having draft legislation introduced by spring of next year. This may prove to be an ambitious schedule and time will only tell what the next Farm Bill holds for conservation. Going on the few clues we have, we can expect less money and more consolidation and streamlining of some of the most important programs for conservation.

In this fiscal climate, we want lawmakers to use this opportunity to do more with less – by consolidating and streamlining programs there is potential to get better conservation outcomes even as we have fewer resources to work with. Senator Lugar’s REFRESH Act takes this challenge, reducing the acres allotted to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and directing environmentally sensitive lands into a consolidated easement program. Although the House and Senate Agricultural Committees failed to release their plans to trim $23 billion from the Farm Bill, from what we know of the proposal, the Committees proposed a similar reduction in CRP, though based on the summary of the plan, the consolidated easement program is likely a bit different, focusing on agricultural and wetland easements, rather than the broad suite of conservation purposes under the REFRESH Act’s easement program.

It is difficult to say whether the changes proposed by Senator Lugar’s bill and the Ag committees will make it into the final Farm Bill. Chairwoman Stabenow, as well as other House and Senate Ag Committee members want the changes they proposed to the conservation title to be a part of the next Farm Bill.

There are a few principles that can ensure that consolidation and streamlining efforts do indeed make for more effective conservation. As the Committees build on their existing work and other members of Congress weigh in, any conservation program consolidation should focus on:

  • Greater flexibility for the Natural Resources Conservation Service to engage partners such as land trusts to fulfill program goals
  • Increasing the availability of technical assistance to landowners interested in implementing conservation easements or other practices on their land.
  • Reducing acreage in CRP and targeting highly sensitive land to longer term protection via conservation easements
  • Investing in conservation practices that improve producers’ conservation performance, instead of paying for practices that would have been adopted anyway.
  • Targeting practices, including land protection, towards areas and resource concerns of the highest priority.

We’ll be looking out for these principles as the Farm Bill debate starts up again 2012. Stay tuned.

This post was written by:

- who has written 10 posts on dotWild.

Allison Sribarra is the Conservation Policy Coordinator at Defenders of Wildlife. Alli works on a variety of issues for Defenders' conservation policy program including federal lands policy and conservation planning.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.