Hearings Begin on 2012 Farm Bill
On February 15, the Senate Agriculture Committee held the first of four hearings for the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill. Titled "Energy and Eco-nomic Growth for Rural America," the hearing covered programs and policies in the Energy and Rural Development Titles of the farm bill. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) opened the hearing with general comments on the next farm bill, noting that with the nation's agriculture sector employing 16 million Americans, the farm bill is thus a "jobs bill."
With the current farm bill expiring on September 30, 2012, she added that it is "critical" that a farm bill be passed this year, a sentiment she acknowledged was echoed in a letter sent by over 80 organizations last week, including NSAC, to complete the farm bill in 2012.
With the current farm bill expiring on September 30, 2012, she added that it is "critical" that a farm bill be passed this year, a sentiment she acknowledged was echoed in a letter sent by over 80 organizations last week, including NSAC, to complete the farm bill in 2012. Later in the hearing, she commented that the $23 billion in proposed cuts from the Agriculture Committees for the Super Committee last year were "our fair share" of deficit reduction.
Sen. Stabenow spoke about the importance of our "bio economy," including biomass production, and cited the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) as the most popular of energy programs and an excellent job creator. Specific to Rural Development, Sen. Stabenow stated her priorities on efficiency of programs and regional approaches, as well as to the need for long-term, sustainable economic growth in rural America.
For more on the first hearing, go to http://sustainableagriculturecoalition.org. Three more hearings will be held: February 28: Strengthening conservation through the 2012 Farm Bill; March 14: Healthy food initiatives, local production, and nutrition; and March 21: Risk management and commodities in the 2012 Farm Bill. Go to NSAC website at http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/senate-hearing-energy-rd/ for more. (From NSAC, Feb. 15, 2012)
White House Budget Disappointing for Natural Resources and Small Farmers
President Obama's fiscal year 2013 budget request sent to Congress on February 13 includes a smattering of 2012 Farm Bill proposals, including most prominently the same $32 billion in 10-year farm bill cuts he issued last September and a proposed one-year cut to farm bill conservation programs of $432 million.
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Policy Director Ferd Hoefner offered these comments on the proposal: "The Obama farm bill budget cutting proposal is not terribly interesting. It follows the emerging consensus to do away with direct payments but offers no alternative safety net proposal other than renewing a largely discredited and expensive farm disaster program."
"It also proposes an across-the-board two percent cut to farmers' crop insurance premium subsidies. Both the commodity payment and crop insurance proposals fail to target the cuts, and thus their impact would be felt most heavily by small and medium-size farms. Neither proposal addresses the critical issue of whether the public should be given assurances that natural resources are protected in return for their large investment in farm production subsidies."
"Nowhere in the President's request is any indication given that the farm bill has an important role to play in economic recovery, job creation, and improved public health through renewal of funding for innovative programs that expire at the end of 2012. "
With respect to FY 2013 farm bill conservation program spending, the Obama budget proposes to layer still further cuts of $432 million on top of the more than $1.25 billion in farm bill conservation cuts enacted as part of the FY 2011 and FY 2012 appro-priations bills. All of the proposed cuts would come from working lands conservation programs that help farmers protect natural resources and reward farmers for the environmental benefits they produce.
The budget request would cut the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) by 759,632 acres, or approx-imately $68 million. It would also cut the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) by $347 million, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program by $12 million, and the Agricultural Management Assistance Program by $5 million.
"Once again the President zeroes in on natural resource conservation and environmental protection as the primary farm bill area for immediate reductions through the appropriations process," said Hoefner.
"Between the backdoor cuts already made in previous appropriations bills and the expected substantial attrition-based reduction in expenditures for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), conservation programs have already paid more than their full pro rata fair share of any new farm bill cuts. It is time for other titles of the farm bill to pony up."
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.
(From National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, News Release, February 13, 2012_Contact: Ferd Hoefner, Greg Fogel_202-547-5754. Go to the NSAC website at http://sustainable agriculture coalition.org for more information.