With the 2018 midterm election in the books, members of Congress return to Washington D.C. this week with a lot of unfinished business, including passage of a new Farm Bill.
For the sake of producers, consumers, and the land that sustains us, we urge Congress to make the Farm Bill a priority and to get a bipartisan bill done before the end of 2018.
The 2014 Farm Bill expired Sept. 30, leaving many of the Farm Bill’s conservation programs hanging in the balance. Without a new bill, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program cannot accept new applicants for vital farmland and ranchland protection projects across the country.
The consequence: farmland that supports our communities, economy, and environment will continue to be irretrievably lost to development. We will have done nothing to decelerate the alarming loss of agricultural land we documented in our recentreport—a loss rate of 3 acres per minute, 175 acres per hour, and 4,200 acres per day.
We can’t afford to talk about extensions or starting over with a new Congress in 2019. Too much work has already been done and farmers, ranchers and landowners can’t wait indefinitely. Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have worked tirelessly to pass the two versions of the bill we now have on the table. We need the respective Chairs, Ranking Members, and other members of the Conference Committee to quickly hammer out the remaining differences, and produce a final, bipartisan bill. Collaboration and cooperation are in order.
Sorry to sound like a broken record, but let me repeat what I said at the beginning of October.
- Without a new Farm Bill this year, the popular and oversubscribed Agricultural Conservation Easement Program—which provides cost-share assistance to qualified entities to permanently protect agricultural lands—will not receive the $500 million dollars needed to address program demand. At the current funding level of $250 million dollars, USDA estimates that it only will be able to fund 7 percent of ACEP applications.
- The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program will remain expired and will have no funding to go forward.
- Important new initiatives in House and Senate bills that AFT has supported—better alignment between conservation practices and federal crop insurance, addressing heirs property, and new data collection and analysis around farmland ownership, tenure and transfer trends—will not be enacted.
If Congress fails to act on the Farm Bill before the end of the year, many important programs that provide farmers and ranchers with opportunities to protect their land, address environmental concerns, expand markets, and improve profitability will end. This will have significant, negative consequences for many farmers and ranchers, and the communities in which they live.
We know there remain significant differences between the House and Senate bills that will require creativity and compromise to bridge. AFT remains hopeful that current leadership will be able to craft a bipartisan Farm Bill that maintains the historic cooperation between and support for the agriculture, conservation, and nutrition communities.