Senate Urged to Reject House Cuts to USDA Conservation Programs

Mar 01, 2011, 13:18 ET from Environmental Defense Fund

Groups Say Programs Are "Crucial to Health, Viability of Agriculture"

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Thirty-five agriculture, and conservation groups today sent a letter to the U.S. Senate, urging senators to reject disproportionately high cuts to agriculture conservation programs in the House-passed appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 1).  H.R. 1 would cut USDA and FDA discretionary spending--including critical funding for conservation technical assistance for farmers, ranchers and foresters--by 22 percent, more than 50 percent higher than the non-defense average cut of 14 percent.  

"We understand the critical need to right America's fiscal ship, but…rural America's contribution to deficit reduction should not be larger than other sectors, and…conservation's contribution should likewise be proportional," said the letter by the 35 groups, including Environmental Defense Fund, National Farmers Union and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  "Unfortunately, the House-passed FY2011 appropriations bill, H.R. 1, not only far overshoots reasonable reduction levels, but also singles out funding for agriculture and rural America for a disproportionately high cut.  These conservation programs are crucial to the health and viability of agriculture and rural America."

H.R. 1 also unfairly singles out for additional cuts the mandatory funding for conservation and renewable energy programs provided by the 2008 Farm Bill, which both the House and Senate passed with broad bipartisan support.   It would cut more than half a billion dollars from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) relative to the direct spending levels provided by the 2008 Farm Bill.

"They [conservation programs] deliver demonstrated environmental benefits including clean air, clean water, and abundant habitat for wildlife," the groups noted.  "They protect soil and farmland to provide lasting food security.  And they bring important money and jobs to rural areas, including increased revenues from hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities."

Demand for enrollment in these conservation programs routinely exceeds the funds available, even without any cuts. Farmers and ranchers are waiting to enroll over 1,000,000 acres in the Wetlands Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program.  Applications for the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program often outstrip available funds by two to three times.  

The impact of permanent reductions to mandatory conservation programs is magnified because the funding is reduced for multiple years, though only the first year is credited for appropriations budgeting purposes.  As a result, the savings are not fully realized, and further pressure is put on the farm bill baseline only a year before a new bill must be written.  

"Failure to support our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and natural resource base today will jeopardize our agricultural industry, drive up long term costs for environmental mitigation, and threaten our nation's food security," the groups concluded.  "We ask the Senate to recognize the importance of agricultural conservation programs and ensure that reasonable funding levels are continued.  Ensuring that cuts are minimized today will give Congress the latitude to address these crucial issues in the upcoming farm bill debate."

Below is the complete list of groups that signed the letter:

American Farmland Trust

American Rivers

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Environmental Defense Fund

Gifford Pinchot Task Force

Gulf Restoration Network

Izaak Walton League of America

Land Trust Alliance

Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

Midwest Environmental Advocates

Missouri Coalition for the Environment

National Association of Conservation Districts

National Audubon Society

National Farmers Union

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

National Network of Forest Practitioners

National Organic Coalition

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

National Wildlife Federation

National Woodland Owners Association

Organic Farming Research Foundation

Organic Trade Association

Partners for Sustainable Pollination

Pinchot Institute

Pollinator Partnership

Prairie Rivers Network

Sierra Club

Soil and Water Conservation Society

Sustainable Northwest

Tennessee Clean Water Network

The Nature Conservancy

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

Union of Concerned Scientists

Water Environment Federation

Wallowa Resources


Sean Crowley, Environmental Defense Fund, 202-550-6524,

Ferd Hoefner, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, 202-547-5754,

SOURCE Environmental Defense Fund