by Amy Wilson
Environmentalists are decrying congressional leaders'
three-pronged attack on the successful conservation programs of
the 1985 Farm Bill.
First, the GOP has quietly rolled deep funding cuts for the Farm
Bill's conservation programs into the giant budget reconciliation
package that President Clinton is slated to consider later this
year. At press time, environmentalists were urging Clinton to
veto the bill.
What's more, two reauthorization proposals -- one in the House,
one in the Senate -- would devastate key conservation provisions
of the law, said Robert Warrick, chair of the Sierra Club's
Agriculture Committee and a family farmer from Nebraska.
In the Senate, S. 1373 -- introduced by Majority Leader Bob Dole
(R-Kan.) -- would dramatically weaken Swampbuster, a program that
pays farmers to protect wetlands rather than drain and farm them,
In the House, H.R. 2542 -- introduced by Republican Reps. Pat
Roberts (Kan.) and Wayne Allard (Colo.) -- would eliminate the
Swampbuster program entirely. In addition, farmers would no
longer be paid to permanently protect restored wetlands, as they
are now under the Wetland Reserve Program. The compliance
program, which requires farmers to use conservation practices to
reduce erosion, would become "self-certifying" -- that is, there
would no longer be a federal review process to determine whether
farmers fulfill its requirements. Most damaging of all, said
Warrick, the Natural Resource Conservation Service that
administers these programs would be merged into the Farm Service
Agency, which is not obligated to implement them.
"These programs have strong support from the farming community,"
said Warrick. "There is no mandate from anyone to gut them. Yet
the Republican majority seems determined to do just that."
Sierra Club activists and staff fought for years to add
sustainable agriculture measures to the 1985 Farm Bill. Their
goal was to get the government to rethink how it subsidized
agriculture, in order to benefit the environment as well as the
As a result of the conservation programs, farmers have restored
nearly 300,000 acres of wetlands and placed them under permanent
protection. More than 30 million acres of former agricultural
lands have been restored to grasslands or forest, and polluted
runoff from fields has been reduced. But funding is so limited
for the programs that many farmers who want to participate have
been forced onto a waiting list.
"The 1985 Farm Bill made the link between conservation and
subsidies," said Pamela Goddard, the Sierra Club's associate
environmental quality representative in Washington, D.C. "Instead
of just giving farmers taxpayer money to grow or not grow certain
crops, it pays farmers to be good stewards of the land. It would
be a giant step backward to allow farmers to receive millions of
taxpayer dollars without asking for good land management in
To take action:
Contact your representative, senators and
President Clinton urging them to fight for a reauthorized farm
bill that continues all the conservation programs included in the
1985 Farm Bill and provides adequate funding to allow all
interested farmers to participate.
For more information:
Contact Robert Warrick at (402) 634-2361 or
Pamela Goddard at (202) 675-7907.
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