posted May 20, 2013

At close to midnight last night, the House Agriculture Committee voted 36-10 to approve the farm bill. Unfortunately, the bill they passed out of committee lacked key conservation provisions that are priorities of National Wildlife Federation. Unlike the Senate version of the farm bill, this House version does not tie soil and wetland protection provisions, known as conservation compliance, to eligibility for crop insurance premium subsidies. Additionally, it contains only a weak regional Sodsaver provision to protect native prairies that applies to only parts of 5 states in the Northern Great Plains. Finally, we were particularly disappointed that an attempt from Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) to increase funding for practices that benefit wildlife on working lands met opposition from both the Chair and Ranking Member of the committee and the amendment had to be withdrawn.
The next step for the Farm Bill is that the full Senate will take it up for consideration next week, starting Monday, and the House will hopefully bring it to the floor sometime in June. We will continue working to ensure that the final Farm Bill includes a link between conservation compliance and crop insurance subsidies, a strong national Sodsaver provision, and adequate funding for programs that benefit wildlife.
Below is a rundown of how the amendments that NWF weighed in on fared during last night’s debate. As you will see, most of the amendments we supported were withdrawn, and two of the amendments we opposed were approved.
NWF Supports:
  • Walz #3 (WITHDRAWN) to provide $800 million in mandatory funding for agriculture energy programs. These valuable and popular programs are needed to improve energy efficiency and deployment of alternative energy on farms as well as to advance bioenergy technologies and biomass supply for the next generation of biomass based heat, power, fuels and biobased products.
  • Kuster #28 (WITHDRAWN) to eliminate an unfair $20,000 payment limitation per year on farmers under the organic initiative.  All other farmers have a $300,000 payment limit in EQIP, so this amendment would help to level the playing field and ensure that all farmers are subject to the same payment limitations in EQIP.
  • Kuster #35 and #36 (WITHDRAWN) to increase the unfair cap on wildlife practices in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The underlying bill allows only 5% of EQIP funds to go towards wildlife practices. This is particularly concerning since well over 5% of EQIP are currently going towards wildlife practices and the standalone Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program is being eliminated. These amendments would require that at least 5% or more of EQIP funds go towards wildlife practices.
  • Courtney #51 (WITHDRAWN) to restore mandatory funding for organic data and certification programs.  This amendment restores mandatory funding that was included in last year’s Committee-passed bill for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives) and the National Organic Program.
  • Costa #69 (WITHDRAWN) to restore the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program. This amendment strikes the repeal of the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and provides $22 million (the same level provided in the 2008 Farm Bill) for organic producers to offset a portion of the annual costs of organic certification.
  • Lujan Grisham #82 (WITHDRAWN) to restore funding for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and veteran farmers and ranchers. This amendment would increase funding to help ensure that that socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have opportunities to successfully acquire, own, operate, and retain farms and ranches and equitably participate in all USDA programs.
  • Noem #67 (WITHDRAWN) to allow for funds from the Rural Energy for America Program to be used for installation of ethanol blender pumps at private gas stations.  The Committee on Agriculture has provided no mandatory funding for the REAP program.  The limited funding this program is likely to get is better used in helping with development of on-farm renewable energy systems and improving energy efficiency, rather than supporting the already profitable  and mature ethanol industry.
  • McGovern #32 (NOT OFFERED) to cap the rate of return guaranteed for companies providing crop insurance and to cap reimbursement of administrative and operating expenses.  In the spirit of the compromise worked out between conservation and agriculture groups on key conservation provisions in the 2013 Farm Bill, NWF is opposing amendments that limit crop insurance.
  • Nolan # 58 (FAILED BY VOICE VOTE) to raise the maximum enrollment of CSP from 8,695,000 acres to 10,348,000 acres.  This would reduce the funding cut to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which is a critically important tool to help farmers improve both the environmental and long term economic performance of their land by protecting soil, water and related resources.
  • Garamendi #86 (NOT OFFERED) to allow interested states to permit qualified third parties to hold and manage easements under the Forest Legacy Program.  The amendment would allow the states to terminate the third party holding of the easement if it is not managed appropriately.  Third party holding of easements is allowed in many other conservation programs.
NWF Opposes:
  • King #73 (APPROVED) would prioritize one interest in the Missouri River basin over all other authorized purposes and require additional costly and damaging manipulation of the Missouri River channel.  The Army Corps of Engineers has already released a study finding that adding more flood storage to the Missouri River reservoirs would not have prevented the floods of 2011.  Improvements to managing the Missouri River should be addressed as part of the already authorized Army Corps study reassessing the authorized project purposes of the Missouri River system and through restoring the river’s natural flood protection capacity.
  • King #71 (APPROVED) to prevent any state from adopting standards or conditions on any agricultural product from another state.  This sweeping amendment would likely even prevent states from banning imports of invasive, disease-carrying organisms, or pesticides.  It is an extreme measure that would seriously impinge upon state’s rights with regard to protecting their air, water, food systems or the health of their citizens.