Budget writers asked to restore conservation cuts

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2015 - Conservation organizations and some farm groups are urging congressional budget writers to restore cuts they put in their fiscal 2016 spending bills and to reject a delay in new conservation compliance requirements for crop insurance. 

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In a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, the groups say the cuts “are shortsighted and would severely limit the capacity of farmers, ranchers and foresters to conserve water, maintain their soil, and prepare for extreme weather events.

The 2016 budget year starts Oct. 1, but negotiations over spending are expected to extend well into the fall. Republican leaders have agreed to negotiate raising spending caps on domestic spending, which could free up some additional money for a range of programs. 

Among the cuts the letter cites is a 2.26 million acre, or 23 percent, reduction to the Conservation Stewardship Program below the level mandated by the 2014 farm bill. That cut is in the House's Agriculture appropriations bill, but not the Senate version. 

Both the House and Senate bills would cut the Environmental Quality Incentives Program by more than $300 million for 2016, and the Senate bill would also rescind $73 million in carryover funding, the letter says. 

The letter urges the appropriators to reject a policy rider in the House bill that would delay the new conservation compliance provisions by a year. 

“USDA has taken extraordinary steps to ensure that every covered producer is able to self-certify compliance by the relevant deadlines. We believe that the concerns that prompted the policy rider have been addressed administratively and do not require any legislative action,” the letter says. 

The groups that signed the letter include American Farmland Trust, Audubon, National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the World Wildlife Fund.

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