American Farmland Trust

Farm Policy Update January 11, 2008

Farm Bill Conference Committee Show-down

2008 Presidential Candidates

WHO'S YOUR CANDIDATE?
Which presidential candidate do you feel has the best stance on farm and food policy?

Take the Poll

The farm bill is ready to go into conference committee for the House and Senate to reconcile differences in their respective versions. The conference committee, to be chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) with conferees from both parties and chambers yet to be assigned, will continue until consensus is reached-and could take four weeks or more for a final version. While both chambers maneuver, a third player, the White House, will also be involved in shaping the final farm bill. Since the Senate's vote in late December, the Bush administration has been very vocal about what they would like in the final package. Once a common farm bill is developed, it goes back to each chamber for a final vote before going to the President to sign.

"While AFT and our supporters have come very far in shaping a new farm bill, there is much legislative work left to be done before the farm bill will be complete. The challenge is getting a bill out of conference that the President will sign, with the best from each chamber to reform subsidies and strengthen conservation, farmland protection and local foods programs," says Dennis Nuxoll, AFT's Director for Government Relations.  

The Farm Bill: Will It Be a New Direction?

A new calendar year is here and still we have no new farm bill. We're getting close, although the administration's veto threat is making a two-year straight extension a real possibility. The House and Senate bills each include good new programs and more funding for many of AFT's priorities. Get ready for action alerts in the coming weeks on how you can help get the best from the farm bill.

  • Conservation
    Over half the land in America is working agricultural land having an enormous impact on our environment. Currently two out of three farmers who apply for conservation funding are turned away. The House and Senate bills offer a more optimistic outlook, but the final bill must have increased funding for all working lands programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Comprehensive Stewardship Program (CSP) along with new conservation loan guarantee and cooperation conservation programs.

  • No Farms No Food Farmland Protection
    "No Farms, No Food"-sound familiar? Sixty-three percent of our dairy products and 86 percent of fruits and vegetables come from farms closest to our cities: farms facing the greatest amount of development pressure. The final bill needs to expand funding for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) along with a host of planning tools to protect working farms and ranches. While the House bill includes funding increases for FRPP, the Senate bill merely maintains the baseline funding.

  • Subsidy Reform
    Perhaps the hottest debate in the farm bill is over commodity subsidies. Unfortunately the House and Senate bills made few changes to commodity programs, but fundamental improvements are still possible with the Average Crop Revenue (ACR) program, a revenue-based safety net that is part of the Senate bill, and by securing increased limits on commodity payments in conference.

  • Jersey Fresh ProduceLocal and Healthy Foods
    The federal government spends billions of dollars to subsidize grains and other crops while providing almost no support for fruits and vegetables. In light of skyrocketing national healthcare costs, we need to promote healthier diets by supporting fresh, local, healthy foods. Fresh fruit and vegetable programs, nutrition spending, and farmers' market promotion programs all stand to be big winners in the farm bill, but only if Congress works to pass the bill instead of opting for extension.

Could the Energy Bill Have a Bigger Impact on Agriculture?

Switchgrass Farmer
A new study documents that ethanol from switchgrass is nearly five times more efficient to produce than corn ethanol.
The energy bill that passed last month has significant implications for agriculture and increased incentives for both conventional (e.g. corn ethanol) and advanced biofuels (e.g. cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass). The new Renewable Fuels Standard calls for 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuels by 2015-tripling current production-and 36 billion gallons of total ethanol by 2022, of which over-half must be advanced biofuels that reduce emissions by 50 percent above gasoline or diesel. Current corn ethanol technology attains approximately a 10 to 15 percent reduction.

AFT applauds the energy bill, but warns it must include more environmental safeguards. While there are requirements that conventional biofuels must achieve a lifecycle greenhouse-gas reduction of at least 20 percent and cultivation is restricted to land that is already in production, there are no requirements for avoiding other environmental impacts such as increased water pollution or soil erosion. Additional funding for conservation programs in the farm bill is critical to ensuring that renewable fuel production is a net positive for agriculture, the economy, and the environment.

Pursuing Renewables, but this Farmer Won't Compromise Soil Quality

Glen Riekhof, Missouri FarmerFor years, Glen Riekhof, a farmer from Concordia, Missouri, contributed countless hours of research and meetings to make Missouri's first ethanol plant a reality. Still, Riekhof doesn't see ethanol transforming the way he manages his land or produces his crops-he's maintaining his strict conservation practices amidst high demand for corn. "I feel like ethanol is a good hedge for me, but I haven't changed my cropping patterns much and I don't plan to," says Riekhof. "On my ground, planting corn after corn is not the best idea."

Media Update

Farm Bill Veto: A Possibility?
President Bush's senior advisors are recommending that he veto the farm bill unless significant changes are made to the current proposals during the conference committee process. Other members of Congress, such as Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Robert Casey (D-PA), like the current Senate bill, while Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says a compromise is possible in the conference committee and vows he's not done fighting for subsidy payment limitations. The Modesto Bee wants Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) to serve on the conference committee. 

Local Food and the Urban Farmers' Market
AFT's Jennifer Small and her husband Michael Yezzi, who operate Flying Pigs Farm, are interviewed in this New York Times article on siting a new farmers' market in New York City.

Ready, Subsidy, Fire!
Scientists at the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute are suggesting a link between fires and deforestation of the Amazon, and U.S. farm subsidies paid for the production of corn that eventually is processed into ethanol. Their new study, published in the British journal Science, calculates the relative merits of 26 different biofuels, looking at the reduction of greenhouse-gasses and an environmental impact index for each.




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