(Washington, DC — Feb 13, 2012) President Obama’s congressional budget request to slash funding for Farm Bill conservation programs in Fiscal Year 2013 by about $600 million could cost more than it saves in the long term, according to a leading conservation group. Farm Bill conservation programs assist farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners in adopting land management practices that improve water quality and wildlife habitat and help maintain the long-term sustainability of their operations by reducing soil erosion and improving soil health.
“Farm Bill conservation programs represent an investment by the government in the long-term health of both American agriculture and our environment, and this investment leverages additional resources from agricultural producers, who have to share the cost of implementing conservation practices on the land,” said Sara Hopper, agricultural policy director for Environmental Defense Fund and a former staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “When farmers volunteer to put up their own money to share the cost of providing all Americans with cleaner air and water, more productive soils, and habitat for wildlife, our government should meet them half way, not reject them.”
Over the last 25 years, Farm Bill conservation programs have increased farmland sustainability, reduced soil erosion by more than 40 percent, dramatically decreased net wetlands loss on farmland, preserved and enhanced critical habitat for endangered species, and produced a substantial financial return for farmers and landowners.
Conservation programs are very popular with producers; farmer demand for conservation assistance routinely exceeds available funding. For example, in 2009, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) had nearly $1.4 billion in unfunded applications [PDF] by 54,000 farmers [PDF] nationwide (a state-by-state breakdown is available). Yet, the president’s FY 2013 budget proposes to cut EQIP by $347 million, from $1.75 billion to $1.403 billion.
Over the last five years (FY 2008-2012), Congress has cut conservation funding by $2.8 billion, representing 81 percent of the nearly $3.5 billion in Farm Bill spending cuts during that time period. At the same time, high commodity prices have driven an increase in production on marginal, environmentally sensitive lands.
“Because increasing global demand for food is intensifying pressure on America’s land and water resources, it is more critical now than ever to maintain and strengthen conservation programs, not slash them further,” concluded Hopper.
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