DU Farm Bill Team lead gives bill update

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 Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or crop insurance wouldn’t be affected by these outdated laws because they have been passed as permanent programs.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.

What has DU done to help pass a 2013 Farm Bill?
The farm bill is one of DU’s top three public policy priorities, so our Governmental Affairs Office and regional staff have been hard at work educating DU members and legislators on its conservation value. Ducks Unlimited field staff hosted field tours for members of Congress and their staffs to educate them on conservation programs and the impact of those programs on working landscapes. DU participated in several coalitions and worked closely with Senate and House Agriculture Committee staff. We participated in Capitol Hill visits with farmers and ranchers, and partnered with the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation to put on a breakfast briefing regarding conservation programs within the farm bill and why they matter to sportsmen. Senior DU volunteers have made passing a comprehensive farm bill their top request to members of Congress. 

Ducks Unlimited developed working relationships within the agriculture commodity community, crop insurance industry and other conservation partners. Through these partnerships and our relationship with the Senate Agriculture Committee, DU was able to secure Senate support for re-coupling conservation compliance with crop insurance. We were also able to gain support for the inclusion of a national Sodsaver provision in the Senate-passed farm bill. While the House Agriculture Committee bill had neither of those provisions and the House ultimately failed to pass their farm bill, we were able to create support for re-coupling conservation compliance with crop insurance. Legislation was ultimately introduced in the House by Reps. Mike Thompson (CA) and Jeff Fortenberry (NE) to re-couple compliance and crop insurance, although this bill was not offered as an amendment to the House farm bill. As for a national Sodsaver provision, Reps. Kristi Noem (SD) and Tim Walz (MN) reintroduced the Protect Our Prairies Act. 

Our CEO Dale Hall wrote multiple op-eds that were published across the country and in Washington, D.C., about the importance of the conservation programs in the farm bill to all citizens by helping keep our waters clean in addition to providing waterfowl habitat. We also targeted key states to show support through letters to the editor and used social media to rally support for a five-year farm bill. Even now, we’re continuing to work within the community to keep the farm bill in the front of Congressmen before it expires in September.

Who are our partners in moving a farm bill forward?
After the House’s disappointing failure to pass a farm bill in the last Congress, Ducks Unlimited joined a coalition of agriculture and conservation organizations to collectively push for the passage of a five-year farm bill. It’s the first time groups of this breadth came together to work toward our common goal of long-term agriculture policy. This cooperation is a reflection of the fact that conservation is vital to production agriculture, and production agriculture is vital to conservation. DU strongly supports keeping our working farmers and ranchers on their land.

Just last week, DU joined more than 500 organizations in signing a letter to Speaker Boehner asking him to bring the farm bill back to the floor for a vote as soon as possible. It also advocates keeping the farm bill intact, and discourages separating out the nutrition title.

What can DU members do to help?
We’ve had good response from DU members when we’ve asked for help contacting your legislators in support of the farm bill conservation programs. More than 2,000 people contacted House members from every state using our action alert and messages from our social media days were seen more than 3 million times collectively. However, we should be able to rally support from far more of our members.

Contacting your House members and asking them to support a comprehensive farm bill when it comes back to the floor is biggest help we can get right now. You can use the page on the DU website to find your legislators on social media, or use their personal contact pages to send an email.