Every five years — give or take — the United States Congress passes a massive piece of legislation known as the Farm Bill, which covers everything from nutrition programs to the kinds of subsidies that farmers can qualify for. This year’s proposed Farm Bill clocks in at just under 700 pages, and is expected to go to a vote Friday morning in the House floor.
For weeks, the parts of the Farm Bill that have been getting the most attention are the Republican-proposed work requirements for food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
But the Farm Bill is more than just subsidies and SNAP requirements. This year, Republican lawmakers have quietly added a number of provisions that environmental and sustainable agriculture groups worry could seriously undercut conservation programs and lead to more pollution in waterways and on farms.
“Overall, we are very concerned about the implications that this bill would have for farmers and ranchers looking to adopt conservation practices and activities on their operations,” Alyssa Charney, senior policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, told ThinkProgress.
Cuts to conservation programs
For agricultural sustainability advocates like Charney, one of the most worrying aspects of the House’s draft Farm Bill is the way that it treats two programs that deal with conservation on farmland.
Under the Farm Bill’s conservation section, there are two programs that normally receive funding: the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Equipment Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). One program, CSP, focuses on conservation of an entire farm operation, from cover crops to water management. The other, EQIP, Charney explains, is akin to a “band-aid,” used to help farmers pay for a single conservation program on a single part of their operation.
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