What's up with conservation and the farm bill

Posted: Jul 18, 2012

Written by

STEPHANIE PAiGE OGBURN, High Country News

Last week, the House Agriculture Committee released its version of the new farm bill, a ginormous piece of legislation passed every five years or so that doles out money not only to farmers, but to food stamp recipients, school lunch programs, and conservation efforts.

The Senate passed its version in May. The House Ag Committee released their discussion draft July 5, and last week the committee hotly debated some of the more controversial items in the bill, making changes to budget cuts, spending programs, and, of course, pulling in some pet peeves and projects. By Thursday all that was over, and now the bill is ready for a full floor debate in the House. (That could happen as early as August, but it could also get pushed back until after the elections.

The Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, as it's often called, pays farmers to idle erosion-prone land and seed it with plants beneficial to wildlife. It, like most conservation programs, was at risk for heavy cuts in this farm bill.

But although all conservation programs will get trimmed this year as legislators try to limit overall spending, the conservation and sportsmen's groups that champion these programs stood their ground and mostly say the cuts are bearable. The House committee version, however, does cut $1 billion more deeply than the Senate version into the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays farmers to improve the health of working lands by using fewer chemicals, planting borders beneficial to pollinators, and implementing practices like no-till.

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