Friday, July 06, 2012

House Farm Bill has more cuts in conservation, no mandatory funding for energy-related work

The House version of the Farm Bill "proposes a significant restructuring of farmland conservation programs and a downsizing of rural energy initiatives," Amanda Peterka reports for Environment & Energy News. "Unlike the Senate version, the House bill provides no mandatory funding for energy programs that help farmers and ranchers make energy efficiency improvements and plant biofuel crops." But it would expand the definition of "biobased" to include forest products.

The draft bill was released yesterday by the House Agriculture Committee and is scheduled for committee markup Wednesday. E&E reports that its conservation title differs from the Senate version by more tightly limiting enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program, "which rewards farmers and ranchers on a tiered basis for conservation activities" and does not include the Senate's "5 percent earmark for wildlife habitat projects." Like the Senate bill, it would cut to 25 million acres from 32 million the size of the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays property owners not to use marginal lands. "The reduction in CRP acres comes amid high crop prices that have spurred farmers to plant lands rather than set them aside for habitat and water quality reasons," E&E reports.(Subscription may be required)

Both bills would end direct payments to farmers and expand the crop-insurance system and limit insurance help for farmers who put native prairie land into production, but the House would apply that only to the Prairie Potholes region of the Upper Midwest. The so-called "sodbuster" rule is favored by environmental groups, sportsmen and the National Rifle Association.

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