Several members of the House of Representatives joined with the Environmental Working Group and other conservation organizations Thursday to discuss the proposed permanent agricultural disaster assistance program in the Farm Bill. According to the group, funding for this program would eliminate about $1 billion from the conservation title of the bill, a move that is unacceptable to them.
"These are programs that go out and assist farmers large and small in every region of the country," says Representative Ron Kind, D-Wis. "It is non-market and non-trade distorting. Today three out of every four farmers applying for conservation funding assistance in this country are turned away because of the inadequacy of funds. These programs are important because they stay with farmers, they stay in rural America, they affect the quality water supplies we have and provide crucial wildlife protection too."
Kind says that many in Congress are trying to introduce some new ideas and reforms of Farm Bill programs that are more reflective of the market today, while providing funding for conservation programs.
"We need a Farm Bill and we need it soon," Kind says. "We've got planting season about to start, our farmers need some predictability; they need to know what's coming up in this planting season. But we also need a good bill, one that reflects the goals and wishes of many of us here and throughout the country to be able to support our family farmers when they need it, but one that also justifiable to the American taxpayer."
Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., says that conservation payments are part of a revenue stream to rural America, and the this Farm Bill is the most important environmental bill that will ever be considered, and structured right will be the best opportunity to improve water quality and water quantity.
"It's an opportunity for us to deal with the broad range of people in rural America who actually need and deserve support from the Federal government," Blumenauer says. "Not the largest commodity producers, the top 10% or 15% in a few states that need help the least."
Direct payment programs are a target of the proposed reform measures being put forward as changes that can offset the spending in the bill. Kind says in these times of record prices it's hard to justify increased subsidy and direct payments in their current form.
"It's about producing the right Farm Bill for the right time," Kind says. "We can produce a Farm Bill that still maintains a viable safety net for family farmers in case things turn bad on them. But let's give help to family farmers when they need it, let's not when they don’t. That's the whole concept behind the reform effort."