DU fights for full five-year farm bill, with conservation funding intact

As the congressional recess neared, House Republican leadership was not inclined to bring the farm bill to the floor without the 218 votes necessary for passage, among concerns that the Republican caucus would be split over funding for nutrition programs. Further, with the cuts to these nutrition programs in the House Agriculture Committee’s reported bill, few Democrats would vote for it, eliminating the possibility of creating a bipartisan alliance to reach the required votes.

In an attempt to put off farm bill consideration until the next Congress convenes, the House Republican leadership prepared a one-year extension of farm bill programs, but failed to include continued authorization for key conservation provisions such as the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). Funding authorization for WRP expires on Sept. 30. The extension was combined with a drought assistance proposal, 75 percent of which was funded with  money taken from  agricultural conservation programs—programs that help farmers and ranchers stay on their land during drought and other disasters (see related story).

Ducks Unlimited and virtually all of our colleague fish and wildlife conservation organizations strongly objected to the extension, as did most agriculture commodity groups. The top-ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson (MN), was strongly opposed, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (MI) said the Senate would not consider such a proposal. Along with this opposition, there remains strong support among commodity interests, conservation groups and nutrition advocates for approving a five-year comprehensive farm bill reauthorization this year.

After it became clear there were not sufficient House votes for a one-year extension, that proposal was withdrawn and replaced by a drought assistance bill, still paid for with conservation funds. The House passed that bill before recessing, but the Senate will not take it up until Congress returns in September. DU will continue its work during the recess to advocate a five-year bill with conservation priorities intact, including re-coupling conservation compliance with crop insurance, creating a national Sodsaver program and holding the line at $6 billion in cuts to the conservation title over the 10-year budget life of the bill.