Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee discusses the farm bill

This month, the Waterfowl Advocate interviewed Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

DU: You were recently awarded a 2013 Wetland Conservation Achievement Award for your role in the passage of a 2012 Farm Bill in the Senate. Why is the farm bill important?

Sen. Stabenow: The farm bill is the most significant investment we make as a country in conservation, so passing a bipartisan bill is one of the most important ways we can fulfill our commitment to clean water, land and air. With more than 70 percent of the nation’s land in private hands, the farm bill is an opportunity to bring wildlife-benefiting conservation practices to farm- and ranchland across the country. Healthy wildlife habitats and clean, fishable waters are not only good for our environment but they also support hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation that benefits our economy and creates jobs. Sportsmen and women contribute nearly $650 billion to the economy and support more than 6 million jobs.* Hunters and wildlife enthusiasts recognize the crucial role private lands play in our habitat conservation efforts and sustainable recreational opportunities for future generations. We passed a strong farm bill last year, with broad bipartisan support, and we will continue our efforts this year to write a farm bill that makes conservation a top priority.

*Specifically, hunters and anglers contribute $90 billion to the economy. The entire outdoor recreation community contributes nearly $650 billion to the U.S. economy.

DU: Tell us about the function of the conservation title in the farm bill.

Sen. Stabenow: The conservation title ensures that we will have healthy soil and clean water for decades to come. And at a time when farmers are growing more food on fewer acres, protecting our land and water resources has never been more important. In the farm bill we passed in the Senate last year, we consolidated and streamlined the conservation title into several areas of focus – voluntary programs that support conservation on working lands, the Conservation Reserve Program that removes highly erodible lands from production, regional partnerships to address specific conservation challenges and a new simplified easements program focusing on long-term land protection. We took expiring programs like the Wetlands Reserve Program and Grassland Reserve Program, which create and protect the nesting cover and food for migratory birds and other wildlife, and created a streamlined program that will continue these goals long into the future. In addition, we extended the Voluntary Public Access program that helps open private lands for hunters. With your help, we worked together to actually strengthen conservation in this climate of budget-cutting. By strengthening conservation programs, we can ensure we have a safe and abundant food supply, clean water and thriving wildlife populations for generations to come.

DU:  As chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, what do you think is the future of the farm bill in the 113th Congress?

Sen. Stabenow: We absolutely need to pass a farm bill. The Senate did its job last year, passing a bipartisan farm bill with an overwhelming majority. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives let the farm bill expire, and Congress passed only a partial extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. I am committed to getting a full, five-year farm bill passed this year. The Agriculture Committee has a long history of bipartisanship, and I have no doubt that my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, will once again join me in passing this critical piece of legislation. The key issue is whether the House of Representatives will act.

DU: How can DU members help with the farm bill and other legislative issues?

Sen. Stabenow: It’s critical to make your voice heard! Ducks Unlimited is an important partner and leader in implementing our farm bill conservation programs and has led the way in educating the public about the need for a strong farm bill. You are the experts on the ground, and we need your continued input and expertise. Most importantly, we need you to contact your representatives and senators to tell them your stories about how farm bill programs have benefitted not only wildlife habitat and agricultural production but communities you live in, and to hold their feet to the fire until action is taken. Working together, we have been able to protect millions of acres of land and restore wildlife populations, and with your help, we will be successful in passing this critical legislation.