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Mixed Results from Senate Farm Bill

Washington D.C.– The 5-year Farm Bill (HR 2419) passed by the Senate by a vote of 79-14 yielded mixed results for conservation said World Wildlife Fund. Although the bill does provide support for important conservation programs, the Senate failed to pass several progressive amendments that would have greatly reduced federal subsidy payments to the wealthiest commodity producers and transferred some of the subsequent savings to increased conservation spending.

“WWF commends the Senate for moving such a comprehensive bill, especially with unprecedented levels of funding for conservation, but it failed to seize upon an opportunity for truly reforming U.S. agricultural policy,” says Jason Clay, senior vice president of Market Transformation at WWF. “As it stands, these subsidies often encourage overproduction without environmental safeguards. Many already wealthy producers grow more simply to maintain their standard of living and this is simply not sustainable when it comes to finite natural resources.” 

Several amendments offering significant agricultural policy reform that WWF supported had been put forward during the Senate debate, including the Lugar-Lautenberg FRESH Act amendment, the Grassley-Dorgan amendment on subsidy payment limits, the Brown and Sununu RESCU amendment and Senator Klobuchar’s Subsidy Means Test amendment. WWF applauds Senators Lugar, Lautenberg, Grassley, Dorgan, Klobuchar, Brown, Sununu and those in the Senate who supported these progressive amendments. Although a majority of senators supported some of these amendments, they were not included in the final package because of procedural rules requiring 60 votes to proceed.

The Senate has authorized $4.8 billion for new conservation funding within the $286 billion bill, which will help address some of the country’s most pressing environmental challenges.  Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners play a significant role in protecting rivers, streams, wetlands, grasslands and forests and conserving and enhancing wildlife habitat for a multitude of wildlife species of concern.

Conservation programs offered under Title II of the Farm Bill such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP), Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), provide these private land owners who want to take voluntary conservation measures with greater access to Department of Agriculture’s conservation program funding. This new provision allows them more financial flexibility to put better conservation measures in place. The Senate has also taken a critical step toward reducing federal incentives for landowners to convert native grassland to cropland by including the so-called “sodsaver” provision in the bill.

WWF’s work in the Northern Great Plains can gain from increased conservation funding through the Farm Bill. In this program, which works to conserve and restore highly diverse and biologically significant North American native mixed-grass prairie and prairie wetlands, the Bill would provide more opportunity for promotion of sustainable farming and ranching practices and would enable additional cropland to be voluntary enrolled in reserve programs for the purpose of habitat conservation and restoration.

“WWF will continue to push for greater protections for grasslands, a dwindling habitat in the Northern Great Plains, and press lawmakers to keep a strong ‘sodsaver’ provision in the bill as the Senate and House reconcile their versions of the Farm Bill in conference in January 2008,” said Gina DeFerrari from WWF’s Northern Great Plains program. “We need our leaders to commit to outcomes that will ensure a better future for both people and nature.”