WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 - A coalition of 56 policy and advocacy organizations released their requirements to Congress today for the 2012 Farm Bill in a document entitled, “Principles for Strengthening the Conservation Title.”
“We will not be able to sustain high levels of agricultural production if we allow our soil and water resources to degrade, especially in the face of challenging weather and increasing prices for energy and other inputs,” states the letter. “Moreover, we clearly will fail to sustain critical ecological functions such as drinking water, fish, wildlife, biodiversity, and watershed health if the new farm bill takes a step back from its commitment to conservation.”
The coalition petitioned lawmakers to heed an outline of principles regarding conservation programs as they write the Conservation Title of the 2012 Farm Bill and seek ways to trim the federal deficit. The coalition’s requirements include:

-Prioritizing the Conservation Title by funding it as close as possible to the current baseline average of $6.5 billion a year.

-Strengthening and enforcing provisions that require farmers to implement basic conservation practices in return for farm subsidies and extend them to insurance subsidies.

-Increasing the share of total Conservation Title funding to Technical Assistance.

-Streamlining existing programs by reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and by linking payments to performance and focusing more on whole-farm and whole-ranch conservation systems.

-Designing conservation programs to pay for quantifiable environmental outcomes, such as units of water conserved, pounds of nitrogen losses reduced, or functional area of habitat provided, and varying payment rates to incentivize higher levels of performance.

-Ensuring that all segments of the farming community, including women, minorities and beginning farmers have access to funding and technical assistance.

For a full list of the 56 organizations and their requirements, follow this link.   

Conservation programs are among those areas being targeted for budget reduction in the next Farm Bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill earlier this month that severely reduced funding to programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetlands Reserve Program and Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. 

“The public and the conservation community are sending a unified message to Capitol Hill: the worthy goals of deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility must not be an excuse to reduce support for conservation,” said Jon Scholl, president of the American Farmland Trust. “As a matter of national security, it is imperative that we maintain our robust investment in conservation and simultaneously work to make the conservation programs smarter and more efficient.”


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