Farm Bill plows on

Farm Bill plows on

Progress on the 2007 Farm Bill legislation continues even though the House Agriculture Committee was unable to adhere to the initial schedule for consideration, according to the Wildlife Management Institute. Committee Chair Collin Peterson had originally hoped that the Committee would complete deliberation and action on the bill prior to the July 4 recess. The Committee now is scheduled to start deliberations during the week of July 16.

As frequently happens, tight budgets and demands for additional funding for a wide variety of programs are complicating the Committee's job of crafting the 2007 Farm Bill. In response, and in an effort to provide a basis for initial discussions, Peterson recently released his chairman's mark of the bill, which includes two options. One option keeps the legislation's budget within existing spending limits and falls substantially short of the expanded program desired by many, including the conservation community. The second option addresses many of the requested adjustments, for energy and food and nutrition programs as well as conservation measures. The kicker for the latter version of the bill is that its implementation is contingent on additional funding.

Many conservation programs in the first option would remain quite similar to the existing 2002 bill. The Conservation Reserve Program would be authorized at 39.2 million acres, as opposed to the current 39 million acres in the existing legislation. The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) would be re-established at $1.6 billion. WRP recently expired in the current legislation, causing it to have no baseline for the 2007 bill. The first option also extends the current Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.

In the amended, second option, 5 million acres would be added to GRP, and the Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program would receive $475 million in additional funding. Renewable energy programs also would receive a substantial funding boost under the amended version of the bill.

Finding the additional, contingent funding is key to expanded programs. With the current, relatively high prices for most farm commodities, many interest parties, both inside and outside of Congress, are eyeing commodity-subsidy programs as potential sources of funds to underwrite expanded opportunities in other portions of the new Farm Bill. If history provides guidance, agricultural producers and producer groups will make a strong effort to prevent a loss of funding in these programs and, at this point, it is difficult to predict how conservation programs will fare.

Both versions of Chairman Peterson's mark of the 2007 Farm Bill can be viewed here. (pmr)

July 08, 2007