March 16, 2008

Food- Environmental Defense Part II

The Farm bill is considered the single largest source of conservation funding in the US. In July, the U.S. House passed its version of the Farm Bill, called the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2007. The Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill in December. Both the House and Senate made steps in the right direction, but did not do enough to meet farmer demand for conservation programs. Now the two parts of congress must consolidate their two versions of the bill.
In the House, the bill provided for $4.5 billion in funding for new conservation programs, but this is still considered and insufficient amount to ensure that farmers are not rejected when they apply for conservation assistance. more than 50,000 farmers (two out of every three that apply) are rejected each year when they offer to share the costs of a healthier environment.
In the Senate their version of the bill failed to make reasonable reforms to farm subsidy programs. despite many reform amendments offered on the Senate floor during debate, the Bill continues with one type of subsidy, direct payments, which flow to farmers regardless of need.
The Senate Bill in fact, increases subsidies rather than reducing them by increasing support levels for some crops, creating a new $5.1 billion "permanent disaster" program, which will encourage more intensive crop production on marginal lands wasting taxpayer dollars + harming the environment. Despite the fact that a clear majority of Senators voted in favor of reforms to impose reasonable payment limits for subsidy recipients and to prevent already wealthy individuals from receiving subsidy checks, a deal struck by Senate Leadership requiring a 60-vote supermajority to pass these amendments thwarted reform efforts. As a result, the farm bill passed by the Senate will continue to allow millionaires to collect unlimited farm subsidies while leaving conservation and other critical programs under funded.

As of now, the farm bill is doing little for conservation programs. Instead, subsidies are focused on production, so that the largest 10 percent of subsidy recipients collect 70 percent of all subsidies (some subsidized farmers collect more than $2 million a year, but most collect less than $200 a month). Subsidies are concentrated on a handful of crops (corn, wheat, soy, rice, & cotton) in a handful of states (eight states collected more than half of farm spending between 1995-2004). As a result of this funding imbalance, most producers are rejected when they seek conservation subsidies. Essentially, the farm policy benefits large production farming, marginalizing crop variation, and creating detrimental effects to our soil, landscape, air and health.

The Environmental Defense has twelve recommendations for farm and food policy. Below are 7-12.

7. Help Farmers Make the Transition to Organic
Helping farmers make the transition to organic will benefit consumers, the environment, and the economy. There is a huge demand for Organic farming in the US, unfortunately the cost of the three-year transition to organic (a period when farmers abandon the use of pesticides but cannot yet label their products as organic) is significant. Farm and food policies should help many more farmers make the transition to organic production systems by sharing in transition costs as farmers move from conventional to organic production.

8. Target Land Retirement and Restoration Efforts
By restoring millions of acres of grasslands, forests and wetlands, the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) and WRP (Wetlands Reserve programs) have produced enormous environmental benefits. Lands enrolled and restored through the CRP, annually sequester 48 million tons of carbon and annually reduce the amount of soil washed into streams by about 450 millions tons (or by enough dirt to fill 37.5 million dump trucks). The 2007 Farm Bill should expand the Wetlands Reserve Program to 5 million acres. This program has already protected 1.6 million acres.

9. Protect 10 Million Acres from Sprawl
More than 80 percent of our fruits and vegetables, and more than 60 percent of our dairy products, are produced in areas threatened by sprawl. At current rates, America is losing two acres of farm and ranch land every minute (Many of those farms and ranches fall in the path of development). The Farm Bill should provide sufficient funds to USDA’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program so that the program can continue to match vital state and local efforts around the country to protect working farms and ranches, the bill should also include an expansion of the Grassland Reserve Program to protect more than 10 million acres of grassland from subdivision and conversion.

10. Promote Cooperative Conservation Projects
Farmers, ranchers and family foresters working together to solve local and regional environmental challenges typically provide clean water, clean air and wildlife habitat faster and at less cost than when landowners adopt conservation practices in isolation. The Farm Bill should increase annual USDA conservation spending from $4 to $7 billion and should reserve 20 percent of all working lands funds to provide grants to groups of farmers, ranchers and family foresters working together to address local environmental priorities. The USDA should hold back 10% of all working lands conservation funds to reward states that do the best job of implementing conservation programs in a way that encourages farmers to work together to meet local and regional environmental priorities.

11. Promote Healthy Food Choices
Rising rates of diet-related diseases such as diabetes have increased the cost of America’s health care system by about $100 billion a year. The next Farm Bill should expand programs that link schools, hospitals and other large institutions with local producers of fruits and vegetables. Linking consumers with local farmers, and building the shipping, packing and processing infrastructure to facilitate these connections, would improve diets, reduce health care expenses, and improve the profitability of farmers threatened by sprawling development.

12. Cultivate a New Generation of Stewards
Farmers over the age of 65 outnumber those below the age of 35 by more than four to one. Over the next two decades, about 400 million acres of agricultural land will be transferred to new owners. But, many new farmers face high land costs and barriers to credit and insurance (many of these new farmers are growing crops that are not eligible for traditional subsidies). The Farm Bill should dramatically expand programs that provide grants and loans to help new farmers and ranchers, new policy should also phase out the use of subsidies tied to the production of certain crops.


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