2008 Farm Bill A Disappointment

Good Conservation Provisions Weakened in Conference, Laments Leading Conservation Group

May 21, 2008


Sean Crowley – (202) 550-6524-o, scrowley@edf.org
Sara Hopper – (202) 572-3379–o, shopper@edf.org
(Washington D.C. - May 21, 2008) – The 2008 farm bill that Congress is nearly certain to enact into law over a presidential veto provides some badly needed new funding for conservation programs over the next five years, and makes improvements to some of these programs. However, these benefits are overshadowed by the lack of meaningful subsidy reform, the addition of an environmentally damaging new subsidy program and last-minute changes made to the bill by the conference committee that undermine the effectiveness of the bill’s conservation provisions, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). 
The House this afternoon voted 316-108 to override the president’s veto of the bill earlier today and the Senate is expected to follow suit tonight or tomorrow.  The Senate originally passed the bill by an overwhelming margin of 81 to 15.
“The good news is that the 2008 farm bill includes $4 billion in new money for conservation, and makes changes to some conservation programs that will make them more effective in helping farmers deliver environmental benefits like cleaner water to the public,” said Sara Hopper, an attorney with EDF who was a staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee during the 2002 farm bill.  “The bad news is that the bills that both the House and Senate passed last year provided more money and included stronger conservation policies.  Unfortunately, the conferees worked behind closed doors to make this a weaker bill for the environment.” 
Like the versions of the farm bill passed by both the House and Senate last year, the final bill makes important improvements to, and increases funding for, two programs that help farmers improve stewardship of working agricultural lands. It also retains a new initiative designed to assist groups of farmers willing to work together to address specific environmental issues and leverage the resources of states, local government and other partners. 
Unfortunately, the conference committee reduced the size of programs that reward farmers for taking environmentally sensitive lands out of production and restoring wetlands.  Conferees also added new provisions to restrict participation in existing conservation programs that were not originally included in either bill. Finally, they gutted a “Sodsaver” provision included in both bills that would have barred crop insurance and disaster payments to any producers who plow up native grasslands in order to plant crops. 
The House and Senate versions of the farm bill each included approximately $5 billion in new funding for conservation, but conferees reduced this amount, in part to pay for a new, environmentally damaging “permanent disaster” program.  Both the Government Accountability Office and USDA’s Economic Research Service have found that disaster payments provide incentives to convert grassland to crop production. 
“Cutting conservation spending to help fund a new subsidy program that will encourage intensive crop production on grasslands and other environmentally fragile lands represents a double blow to the environment,” concluded Hopper. 
In addition to providing $3.8 billion for the new disaster program, the 2008 farm bill increases support levels for some crops, adds new crops to the subsidy roll, and fails to make any significant reduction in direct payments.  Direct payments will cost over $5 billion a year for the next five years and mostly flow to producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice regardless of how high prices are or whether the farmer needs the assistance.
President Bush cited these increases in farm subsidies when he vetoed the 2008 farm bill today.