CRP, similar conservation programs would take hits
Washington — In a move interpreted by some as a sign an updated federal Farm Bill may be on the immediate horizon, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry unveiled a bill authors say will cut the federal deficit by $23 billion over 10 years.
Of interest to hunters and anglers is the belief that conservation program cuts would be $6.4 billion over that same time period, according to several conservation groups.
The bill passed the committee April 26 on a 16-5 vote.
Little in the latest version of the bill was left off the chopping block. The CRP program, the most prominent of conservation programs (in Title II of the Farm Bill), is recommended to be capped at 25 million acres nationwide. The current cap is 32 million acres, and current enrollment stands at about 32 million. A recent general signup for the program likely will increase total acreage, but contract expirations this September will reduce the program by about 6.5 million acres.
Redlin said the reduction, if approved, would take a “step-down” approach; the new cap wouldn’t be required immediately.
The Conservation Stewardship Program, too, would see a reduction in acreage under the Senate bill.
And, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Grasslands Reserve Program, and the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program would be combined into a single easement program with two branches – one combining FRPP and GRP, the agricultural lands easement program and the other, a wetlands easement program similar to WRP.
It’s also noteworthy, according to the coalition, that the combined easement program would be “denominated in dollars rather than acres per year” – baseline funding long sought by some conservation groups.
According to the NSAC, the program would be provided with $3.2 billion over the next 10 years, and the funding is considered permanent rather than temporary.
“This is a significant improvement, though the flip side is that the overall funding levels for all three underlying programs will be significantly less than what it has been per year,” according to the NSAC news release.
The debate now begins whether Congress can pass the bill yet this summer; most believe if matters such as the massive Farm Bill aren’t settled by the end of August, the fall elections will put them on hold.
“It is entirely doable that it will happen [new Farm Bill approved] this summer,” according to Brad Redlin, director of agricultural programs for the Izaak Walton League of America. He added that if it doesn’t happen,
Congress likely will need to pass an extension to keep programs within the current bill funded.
Redlin also said that such extensions aren’t uncommon. He said last year’s failed “super committee,” tasked with reducing the federal budget deficit, helped lay the groundwork for the Farm Bill forwarded by the Senate ag committee.
“By and large, [the ag committee bill] tracks pretty darn close [to the super committee recommendation],” he said. “There’s some comfort in not being surprised.”