Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
to: family farm alliance members and interested parties
from: dan Keppen, executive Director
subject: bush administration 2007 farm bill proposal
Earlier today, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns unveiled the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2007 farm bill proposals. The 65 proposals correspond to the 2002 farm bill titles with additional special focus areas, including specialty crops, beginning farmers and ranchers, and socially disadvantaged producers. For more information on the details of the Administration’s proposal, go to www.usda.gov/farmbill.
I participated in a teleconference “listening session” this morning, where Agriculture Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner further discussed Secretary Johanns’ report on the Bush Administration’s farm bill proposals. These proposals reflect the views heard during USDA’s 52 Farm Bill Forums held across the country.
We have discussed this proposal with policy officials at USDA, the U.S. Interior Department and Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The following reflects these conversations, as well as Chuck Connor’s comments from earlier today. For water-specific provisions, check out “Important New Water and Conservation Grant Programs”, below.
Deputy Secretary Conner explained that the
proposals unveiled today represent the final
phase of a nearly two year process. Each
detailed proposal provides information about why
a change is needed, the recommended solution,
and relevant background information about the
impacted program or policy. Collectively, the
Administration’s proposed 2007 Farm Bill would
allocate the bulk of the funding to food
assistance programs (54%), commodity programs
(26%) and conservation and forestry programs
Connor explained that USDA began preparations for the 2007 farm bill in 2005 by conducting 52 Farm Bill Forums across the country. More than 4,000 comments were recorded or collected during forums and via electronic and standard mail. These comments are summarized in 41 theme papers. USDA economists, led by Dr. Keith Collins, studied the comments and authored five analysis papers. In general, American farmers and ranchers were fairly supportive of the 2002 Farm Bill, which serves as the starting point for the Administration’s proposal. However, several key concerns regarding the current Farm Bill were voiced in the Farm Bill Forums:
· A perception that family farmers are not getting their fair share of payments;
· IRS Section 1031 impacts on land values;
· Inability to address drought-related impacts to crop production;
· Trade challenges faced by producers; and
· Commodity payment limits.
Connor reiterated Secretary Johanns’ comments from earlier in the day, where he stressed that the next Farm Bill needs to be more predictable, able to withstand challenge, and provide for a wise use of tax dollars.
The following sections provide highlights of the USDA proposals. Funding shown reflects ten-year totals.
According to Chuck Connor, the strong conservation title is a “cornerstone” of the 2007 Administration Farm Bill proposal. This is “the future of American agriculture”, he said. Key features of the Administration’s proposal, which will include an additional $7.8 billion to protect natural resources through conservation programs, include:
Important New Water and Conservation Grant Programs
Chuck Connor specifically discussed growing concerns about competition over Western water between agriculture, urban areas, and environmental interests. “Farmers cannot be left holding the bag,” he said. Towards that end, the USDA Farm Bill proposal would create a new Regional Water Enhancement Program (RWEP) that focuses on cooperative approaches to enhancing water quantity and/or quality on a regional scale. The RWEP would invest mandatory funding of $175 million to producers annually to address an important missing component in the federal government's conservation delivery system-large-scale, coordinated water conservation projects. This new program would:
· Coordinate and competitively fund large-scale (watershed or irrigation district level) water conservation projects
· Target working agricultural landscapes, including crop, pasture, grazing, and orchard lands
· Focus on one to two key water quantity/quality objectives per area
· Include performance incentives to encourage a high percentage of producer participation in a project area and achieve cooperative conservation outcomes
· Establish interim performance targets that must be achieved in order to renew project funding.
This new program in tandem with multiple conservation tools (including farmland management practices, easement purchases, and ecosystem restoration assistance) would provide flexibility to cooperative conservation partners to achieve improved water quantity and quality goals. According to OMB sources, the challenges of the Klamath Basin were a driving force behind this concept.
Additionally, a more robust Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, funded at $100 million annually (currently funded at $20 million), would provide opportunities to stimulate the development of innovative practices, accelerate development of market-based models, result in emphasis and creativity in addressing regional resource concerns (i.e., Klamath Basin and San Joaquin Valley), and find tools to assist small-scale producers. Grants would be used for technology transfer and farmer-to-farmer workshops and demonstrations of conservation success. These activities will encourage producers to further adopt innovative conservation practices.
Renewable Energy Programs
The Administration's Farm Bill proposals include more than $1.6 billion in new renewable energy funding and targets programs to cellulosic ethanol projects. These proposals advance renewable energy and build upon Farm Bill energy programs by:
Chuck Connor also discussed “ecosystem credits” as they apply to the carbon trading issue, which he called “the wave of the future”. This program would provide assistance to farmers from private sector industries to pay for good environmental practices that offset industrial impacts.
The Administration's Farm Bill proposals would increase trade programs by nearly $400 million to continue the creation, expansion and maintenance of agricultural exports by increasing the Market Access Program by $250 million. This initiative allows partnerships between USDA and non-profit domestic agricultural trade associations to share the costs of overseas marketing and promotional activities such as consumer promotions and market research. Other funding would support trade efforts to expand exports, fight trade barriers, and increase involvement in world trade standard-setting bodies.
The USDA proposals target nearly $5 billion in funding to support specialty crop producers by increasing nutrition in food assistance programs, including school meals, through the purchase of fruits and vegetables, funding specialty crop research, fighting trade barriers and expanding export markets. Connelly characterized this as “modest changes to a program that is working well”. Targeted programs would:
The USDA proposals build upon existing rural development programs. The Bush plan includes $1.6 billion in guaranteed loans to complete the rehabilitation of more than 1,200 current Rural Critical Access Hospitals. It also includes $500 million to reduce the backlog of rural infrastructure projects such as water and waste disposal loans and grants. Elsewhere, the agricultural credit program would be modified to emphasize providing more loans to young starting farmers and ranchers. According to Connor, “beginning and socially disadvantaged” farmers will be treated with priority. The Administration’s proposal would support socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers by reserving a percentage of conservation assistance funds and providing more access to loans for down payments, land purchasing and farm operating loans.
Chuck Connor also touched briefly on some other topics:
· Ag Research, where Connor says we are “lagging in investment”. The USDA proposal would provide $1 billion for specialty crop research and $500 million for new fuels.
· Forestry – the focus in the Administration proposal is on using wood for energy and providing incentives for private forest owners.
· Crop insurance program - Disaster relief would be strengthened by establishing a revenue-based counter-cyclical program, providing gap coverage in crop insurance, linking crop insurance participation to farm program participation, and creating a new emergency landscape restoration program.
· Organic Agriculture, which represents a fast growing sector of American agriculture, is addressed in a strong section of the bill, with emphasis on more research and certification matters.
Summary / Next Steps
The Administration's 2007 farm bill proposals would spend approximately $10 billion less than the 2002 farm bill spent over the past five years (excluding ad-hoc disaster assistance). These proposals would provide approximately $5 billion more than the projected spending if the 2002 farm bill were extended.
The Administration has urged the agricultural community to give them your feedback on its proposal. Chuck Connor concluded his speech today with a request to “look at the whole picture, priorities, and vision for where we need to be in order to have a healthy and vibrant farm economy.”
The complete USDA proposals are available at
www.usda.gov/farmbill. Also posted on USDA's
website are the Farm Bill Forum transcripts,
farm bill comments submitted by the public,
theme papers summarizing the comments and USDA
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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