House Subcommittee Reviews USDA Energy and Ag Programs
By Sarah Gonzalez
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“Thirty-seven programs in the Farm Bill do not have a budget baseline beyond the expiration date of the current farm bill, including every program in the energy title,” said Thompson. “Therefore, if we wish to see any of these programs continue into the future in the current form, we will be faced with the challenge of finding funding elsewhere.”
These 37 programs are allocated through 12 titles of the current farm bill, making it difficult to reallocate funding. Some of these programs, including the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Rural Energy for America Program, were added or expanded in the 2008 Farm Bill in an effort to make biomass production a viable option for the nation's growers.
Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Judy Canales, administrator of the Rural Business Cooperative Service and Juan Garcia, deputy administrator of the Farm Service Agency from the U.S. Department of Agriculture spoke to the subcommittee about farm bill programs administered under the energy and forestry titles.
“Production of energy crops is subject to greater risk compared to the production of conventional crops,” said Garcia. “In the 2008 Farm Bill, there is incentive to farmers to maintain and harvest an energy crop. We've had 41 project proposals for more than 1.5 million acres in dedicated energy crops over the course of five to 15 years.”
In an effort to distinguish biomass energy programs administered by the USDA from other government programs, Canales emphasized the focus many Farm Bill programs have on energy and agriculture.
“The Biorefinery Assistance Program differs from the Department of Energy because these technologies are all first-of-a-kind,” she said. “But most importantly, there is usually some element of a relationship to agriculture. We are trying to drive private sector dollars into the rural communities, predominantly.”
The subcommittee also examined the USDA forestry programs during the hearing. Tidwell hailed the 2008 Farm Bill forestry programs for offering protection and technical support for the privately owned 430 million acres of forest in the U.S, in addition to the 930 million acres of National Forests. Lawmakers and the U.S. Forest Service Chief recognized that “we need to be doing more” in some areas of the Farm Bill forestry programs, most of which have permanent authorization under the 2008 Farm Bill. Rep. Steve Sutherland (R-Fla.) had a particularly passionate review of the forestry programs' restoration projects in his district.
“I hear a lot about restorations, I hear a lot about studies, I hear a lot about planning, but just let the people go in and do what needs to happen” he said. “I know people who are losing everything they have and they don't want to hear about the studies and the analysis. The American people want to work. This bothers me that there is stonewalling.”
Tidwell recognized the need for greater restoration in these areas and also stated that target harvests are made every year based on the programs' allocated budgets, which are able to be executed through project plans, funds and partnerships with other state and federal agencies.
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