Our Take on the House Farm Bill
As the summary shows, the Farm Bill is a big enterprise, and farmland protection is only a small part of it. Of course, we are following that small part closely, and can tell you that:
- The House draft includes several important changes to the Agricultural Land Easements program (successor to FRPP & GRP) that the Land Trust Alliance, American Farmland Trust, Partnership of Rangeland Trusts, the Trust for Public Land, and the Nature Conservancy asked for. These changes include the provisions of the Bennet/Crapo amendment that we won in the Senate and will make the program friendlier for land trusts and for landowners.
- The House draft increased the funding devoted toward the purchase of farm and ranch easements over what the Senate provided in its bill. Given the fiscal pressures now at work on the federal budget, this is truly amazing.
- Congressman Chris Gibson (R-NY), Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) and other committee members advocated for these changes (and others) with the House Agriculture Committee staff, and should be thanked for helping advance farmland conservation.
- We did not succeed in adding flexibility to the match requirements, such that landowners could donate more value in place of cash match from local land trusts and governments. Our friends on the committee carefully considered proposing an amendment on this issue -- but decided against it. We gather they got strong pushback from the committee staff. It's a bit of a letdown not to have an amendment to push, but they did give us 8 of the 10 things we had asked them for -- AND they added about $200 million to the program!
- There will not be an amendment to raise the tight funding caps added to the Forest Legacy and Community Forest programs, but the Senate language is already good and we're optimistic about our chances in conference.
- So far, none of the 99 amendments offered in committee appear to make further cuts to conservation -- that's a victory unto itself.
We will keep you informed on how it goes, but we fully expect the committee to pass a bill that will have very good provisions for farm and ranch land protection.
Previous Update: July 6, 2012
Last night, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) released their draft of the Farm Bill, slated for committee consideration starting Wednesday, July 11. We're pleased to see that their proposal closely mirrors Senate plans for an Agricultural Land Easements program that merges the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and Grassland Reserve Program. A few issues remain, however, and we're working on an amendment. We'll provide more details soon, but wanted to share our initial assessment of the bill:
The House bill cuts overall spending by $35 billion, $12 billion more than the Senate version. Thus we consider it a remarkable success that the House's conservation cuts are similar to the Senate's--about $6 billion. Better yet, Agricultural Land Easements would see slightly better funding in later years, bringing its total funding to $1.58 billion over the next decade.
We are pleased that the House bill includes language from the Bennet/Crapo amendment we won in the Senate. That language clarifies that USDA is providing funds for eligible entities to purchase easements, not purchasing them itself. Thus items 3-6 on the fact sheet we circulated last week have already been adopted, leaving us to focus on the first two items.
Fixing the Match Requirements
The House draft does not include our proposals to restore the 2008 cost share formula and waive the local cash match requirement on projects of special significance. We are currently working on an amendment to add this language in next Wednesday's committee markup. Look for an Advocates alert early next week with details on how you can help.
Forest Legacy & Community Forest Caps
Early in the Senate process, we succeeded in greatly increasing the authorization limits that had been added to the Forest Legacy and Community Forest programs. Unfortunately, the House bill brings those caps back, at $55 million for Forest Legacy and $1.5 million for Community Forests. To clarify, these aren't dedicated funding levels (as is the case for ALE), but caps on appropriations, so funding can easily go down, but never up. We're working with partners to see if this can be fixed.
Do you have any other concerns about the House draft? Please let us know!
Along with our one good amendment, we anticipate there will be attempts to slash conservation funding. Please contact Lynne Sherrod (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions or would like to receive our farm bill updates.