This month, the Waterfowl Advocate asked Becky Humphries, Ducks Unlimited’s Great Lakes Director and lead of the farm bill team, to update us on the status of the 2013 Farm Bill.
What’s happening with the farm bill now?
In June, the farm bill failed in the House of Representatives with a final vote of 195-234. It needed at least 218 votes to pass and many in the agriculture and conservation communities were cautiously optimistic that we would get them. Unfortunately, the bill failed primarily over disagreements on funding for the nutrition title, and had little to do with either the commodities or conservation titles. The final vote came as a big surprise to most in the agriculture and conservation communities because there had been so much collective momentum built to get a comprehensive farm bill done this year.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) have committed to bringing the farm bill back to the floor of the House for another vote sometime before the current extension expires on Sept. 30. But at this point, we don’t know what form the House farm bill will take. There are members of Congress calling for the nutrition title to be taken out of the farm bill and voted on separately, and others suggesting a vote be taken on the House Agriculture Committee-passed bill, without any of the amendments that were subsequently accepted on the floor. House Leadership is still looking for a path that will get 218 votes needed to pass it.
The House must pass a farm bill, in whatever form, in order to get it into conference with the Senate-passed bill and reconcile the differences between the two. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) has already said the Senate will not pass another extension. Without a final five-year farm bill or another extension, agriculture policy will revert back to laws written in 1949 when the last permanent farm bill was passed. Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or crop insurance wouldn’t be affected by these outdated laws because they have been passed as permanent programs. However, the conservation programs that are so important to DU for protecting wildlife habitat on private agricultural and range lands, are not authorized under the 1949 laws, and are in jeopardy of not being continued.
Why is the farm bill important to Ducks Unlimited?
The majority of the remaining wetlands and significant grasslands in the United States are on private land. Take the Prairie Pothole Region for instance, where more than 90 percent of land is privately owned. The farm bill is the most effective tool for conserving wildlife habitat on private land, and it's DU's goal that both waterfowl and their habitats benefit from this policy. DU also strongly supports working farmers and ranchers. The farm bill programs help provide a safety net against severe weather, such as drought, that allows farmers and ranchers to stay on their lands.
The agricultural conservation programs that are authorized and funded through the farm bill are the backbone of DU's cooperative conservation work with our partners in agriculture. Thus, it's critical that programs like the Conservation Reserve Program
and Wetlands Reserve Program
are adequately funded to sustain our traditions of waterfowl conservation and waterfowl hunting.