Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Congress passes Farm Bill; Bush keeps word with veto

Washington – The margin by which the nearly $290 billion Farm
Bill passed in mid-May in both the House (318-106, on May 14) and
the Senate (81-15, on May 15) nearly ensured an override of
President Bush’s recent veto.

In fact, on May 21, the House did just that, 316-108.

Bush said the bill was too expensive, and didn’t reform farm
programs enough for his liking.

“Farm income is expected to exceed the 10-year average by 50
percent this year,” Bush said in a statement. “Yet Congress’ bill
asks Š taxpayers to subsidize the incomes of married farmers who
earn $1.5 million per year. I believe doing so at a time of record
farm income is irresponsible and jeopardizes America’s support for
necessary farm programs.”

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said the bill fails to target
help for farmers “who really need it.”

Senate leaders said demands came from all areas of the country –
senators in farm country in the Midwest and South, and urban
senators who fought to increase nutrition programs, which eat up
about two-thirds of the bill’s funding.

“The bill has reform in it,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid. “Could we have done more? Perhaps. But if we’d done more, we
wouldn’t have gotten a bill.”

By Wisconsin Outdoor News press time, another twist had emerged.
It was discovered that Congress had omitted a 34-page section of
the bill when lawmakers sent the measure to the White House. That
meant Bush vetoed a different bill from the one passed by Congress,
raising questions that the eventual law would be
unconstitutional.

House Democrats hoped to pass the entire bill – again – under
rules usually meant for unopposed legislation. The Senate was
expected to follow suit, and send the new bill to the
president.

That also meant that Congress would have to pass yet another
extension of the current Farm Bill, which originally expired last
year.

Five of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation – Reps. Gwendolynne
Moore, Ron Kind, Jim Sensenbrenner, Paul Ryan, and Tom Petri –
voted against the Farm Bill. Reps. Dave Obey, Steve Kagen, and
Tammy Baldwin voted for the bill. Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold
voted for the bill.

Some conservation groups said the bill was a mixed bag for the
outdoors. Others called it a disappointment, and said work would
begin on projects to offset the bill’s negative effects during the
next five years. Still others said they’d now be focusing on the
2012 Farm Bill.

Bart James, governmental affairs representative for Ducks
Unlimited in Washington, D.C., said the group now was considering
“how to fill the gaps left by the current Farm Bill.” Part of that
will be encouraging more farmers to plant winter wheat, which is
less damaging to wildlife populations than other crops, such as
soybeans.

Most disheartening, James said, was the watering down of a
“Sodsaver” provision that would’ve removed some federal payments –
incentives – for producers who choose to till native
grasslands.

In its final form, Congress made Sodsaver an option for five
Midwestern states – South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota,
and Montana – and stated it could apply to only portions of those
five states.

DU biologists estimate that 3.3 million acres of prairie will be
lost over the next five years.

Other Farm Bill provisions weren’t conservation-friendly,
according to DU.

“Despite the positive results initiatives like the Conservation
Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program have on clean water,
healthy farmland, and wildlife habitat, those programs are being
scaled back in acreage and changes have been made to provisions
that have made them popular with farmers and ranchers,” a DU press
release states.

CRP’s proposed acreage would decrease from 39.2 million acres to
a 32 million-acre cap. While both the Grasslands Reserve Program
and the Wetlands Reserve Program were reauthorized, both would see
funding levels decrease from past years.

Programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program
and the Conservation Stewardship Program would see funding
increases of about $3.4 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively,
during the next five years. EQIP is oft-used to construct
environmentally friendly manure pits and other farm projects, while
the CSP is aimed at rewarding landowners for sound conservation
practices.

“The conservation programs contained in the Farm Bill are
critically important for many groups of wildlife species (upland
birds, waterfowl, nongame songbirds, etc.),” said Scott Hull,
Wisconsin DNR upland game ecologist. “There is simply no way to
provide enough habitat for these critters on public land. Habitat
on private land is the key, and we need the Farm Bill to get that
done.

“In general, the conservation title in the 2008 Farm Bill is
sort of a mixed bag, at least compared to the 2002 Farm Bill. In
this budget climate I think the conservation community fared about
as well as it could have in this Farm Bill,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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