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Farm Policy Update August 23, 2006

Congress and NRCS Take Action on FRPP

One of the most closely watched farmland protection programs this summer has been the Federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP). In response to tensions and criticism by the cooperating entities that participate in the program over recent policy changes, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) opted to go through the rulemaking process and released an interim final rule formalizing policy changes for the program. At the same time, both Sen. Rick Santorum [PDF] (R-PA) and Rep. Tim Holden [PDF] (D-PA) introduced legislative proposals to address many of the outstanding issues with FRPP. American Farmland Trust and its partners will continue to work with Congress to refine the proposed bills to ensure that Steve PercyFRPP meets the needs of landowners, state and local governments and participating entities.

Idaho Rancher Restores Land with Help from Federal Funds 

Steve Percy, a fourth-generation rancher who relocated to Idaho after urban pressure drove him from southern California, is now helping to restore land east of Boise, thanks to sound management practices and help from federal programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Security Program (CSP). Percy praises EQIP and CSP for rewarding smaller practices that make a difference. At the same time, he sees room for improvement, saying, “[USDA] gives you this program, and you go home and try to fit your operation into it. It would be better if they could look at the operation and say, ‘Here, we’ll tailor the program to you if you do these things.’”

74% Conservation Applications Unfunded

Expanded Tax Incentives for Donated Conservation Easements Signed into Law

On August 17, 2006, President Bush signed the Pension Protection Act of 2006 into law. The new law, applicable for 2006-07 benefits, allows qualifying farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100 percent of their income along with other provisions that provide greater benefits for donating development rights to their land. This is a great victory for conservation, and AFT thanks all who contacted the President and urged him to take action. 

You Are What Farm Policy Helps You Eat

Americans are spending $110 billion annually on medical expenses due to illnesses caused by obesity—yet many don't have access to healthy, nutritious food. Innovative programs like Kaiser Permanente's hospital-based farmers’ markets help to address the problem by making fresh fruit and vegetables available to people where they work. And AFT is supporting efforts like these by calling for a stronger link between farm policy and national health and nutrition goals. Agenda 2007 [PDF] proposes that federal programs should promote healthier diets by supporting farmers' markets, expanding access to specialty crops and locally grown food, and facilitating institutional purchases of local and regional agricultural products.

Extending the Farm Bill is Not So Simple

While the American Farm Bureau Federation has officially called for a one-year extension of the farm bill, it may be a tough sell in congress. Agriculture Secretary Johanns says that USDA’s listening sessions have provided a mandate for slashing subsidies for the program crops, despite the input of farmers. AFT lays the case for the “powerful forces” converging to make change in U.S. farm policy and provides plausible alternatives for the future in its Agenda 2007 [PDF] report.

Media Summary

National Corn Growers Say No to Farm Bill Extension and Consider Shift to Revenue-Based Payments in Farm Bill
Inside U.S. Trade (by subscription) reports that National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Vice President Jon Doggett told the American Sugar Alliance meeting that the association is not endorsing extension of the farm bill at this time as it works on the details of its policy shift. NCGA is considering a new approach to farm subsidies in the next farm bill looking at a revenue-loss based calculation for payments instead of price-based supports.

Welfare Queens on Tractors
Prominent conservative journalist Jonah Goldberg has penned an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times titled “Welfare Queens on Tractors”. Our current farm subsidies are “so complicated—i.e. rigged—that it's almost impossible to know how much agricultural subsidies cost U.S. taxpayers”, he writes.

State Looks to Flex Ag Clout
“Despite its position as the top-producing agricultural state, California often has been a relative wallflower when Congress goes through the twice-a-decade ritual that determines federal agricultural spending,” says the Sacramento Bee. Why? Because the bulk of the current federal farm commodity payments flow to just five crops—rice, cotton, soy, corn and wheat—thus the state’s specialty crop producers (nuts, fruits and vegetables) are out of the picture. Farm interests are organizing to flex their ag clout for a new breed of farm policy in the next farm bill.

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