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Feeding your mind, saving the planet >>

Conservation Programs May Get Less Money Than Specified in Farm Bill

Friday, September 18, 2009

Des Moines Register, Philip Brasher

Published September 10, 2008

The new farm bill has barely taken effect and the Democrat-controlled Senate is already moving to shrink spending levels for some land-conservation programs, environmental groups say.

The biggest impact would be on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which subsidizes the costs of improvements to farm and feedlots that prevent pollution and conserve soil and water.

The program would get $1.05 billion in 2009 under a Senate appropriations bill. That is slightly more than the program received this year, but it would be a $285 million cut from the level set for 2009 by the farm bill, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group. Four smaller programs would be reduced by a total of $46 million.

The report said Democrats were following a "bait-and-switch routine" that "mirrors a longstanding Republican tradition of broken promises" on farm conservation spending.

When Republicans controlled Congress they came under fire from Democrats for reducing conservation spending from levels set by the 2002 farm bill.

Sixteen other conservation groups sent a letter to the House and Senate appropriations committee on Monday raising concerns about the reductions that the Senate spending bill would make.

Ferd Hoefner of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, one of the organizations that signed the letter, said the problem wasn't so much the size of the reductions but the precedent that they would set.

Rohit Mahajan - a spokesman for the chairman of the Senate agricultural appropriations committee, Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl - said the conservation money was needed to cover the rising cost of nutrition and food safety programs.

The cost of a nutrition assistance program for low-income mothers and children alone went up $1 billion because of rising food prices, he said. International food aid also costs more because of inflation.

Sen. Tom Harkin, who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a member of the appropriations panel, said he was also concerned about the reductions in conservation.

The committee did not reduce spending for the Conservation Stewardship Program, which was cut repeatedly after Harkin added it to the 2002 farm bill. It would receive $230 million in 2009.

The full Senate has yet to vote on the agricultural spending bill, and there has been no action so far in the House on its version of the measure. The 2009 budget year starts Oct. 1, but Congress is not expected to finish work on 2009 spending bills until after the general election.

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