Council continues call for conservation action as farm bill expiration looms

According to the latest news from Washington, DC, Speaker of the House John Boehner has decided that the House will not take up their version of the farm bill before the adjourning Friday.   It  appears that the House leadership is willing to let the current 2008 farm bill expire on September 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.  This is highly unusual, for, as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition put it, “expiration of a farm bill without even an extension of current law is without precedent — a once unfathomable option that is now suddenly treated as no big deal.”

So what happens if the Farm Bill expires? In the absence of either a new bill or an extension of the 2008 farm bill, federal price supports for major U.S. crops would revert to their 1949 levels–essentially causing a huge mess. While crop insurance would continue, other programs including direct payments and many conservation programs would end, according to recent Congressional Research Service (CSC) Report.  In its place would be a 1940’s era system for supporting agriculture based on crop prices from the 1940’s that do not have any basis in the current market.  Some currently subsidized crops such as soybeans and peanuts may not be eligible for any support payments based on the 1940’s law.

Another CSC report identifies 37 programs authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill  that do not have ongoing funding beyond September 30.  These expiring programs include important programs to protect soil and water quality and support for renewable energy, rural economic development and beginning farmers. Of particular concern to conservationists is the expiration of the Wetlands Reserve Program and Grassland Reserve Program which are among the most critical conservation programs for water quality and flood control.

What will happen in the lame duck session after the election is unclear, but there are no guarantees that the House and Senate will be able to reach agreement on the farm bill even after the political pressure of the election ends.

The Council and its conservation organization partners continue to believe completing a Farm Bill this year is not only important for farmers, but that all Iowans have a stake in the outcome of this critical legislation.  Important reforms in the Senate passed farm bill, especially the provision that would re-connect eligibility for crop insurance subsidies to conservation compliance, need to be included in the final legislation.  In addition, all conservation programs need to be fully funded to assist farmers in meeting the challenge of increasing production while also  improving soil and water quality.

The Council will continue to provide updates and opportunities for Iowans to speak out on this critical legislation as the situation develops.

Susan Heathcote is the Iowa Environmental Council’s water program director.

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