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Balancing Food, Farm, and Environment Act of 2013 Benefits and Provisions

Balancing Food, Farm, and Environment Act of 2013 Benefits and Provisionsons

Read the bill here. 

Benefits:

·      Clean Drinking Water and Rivers     The Act expands the use of permanent easements to protect and restore riverbanks and streams, puts water quality as a top priority for more programs and provides new funding to help farmers use fewer pesticides. 

·      Keeping Antibiotics out of our Water and Food     For the first time, reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock is established as a program purpose in EQIP.  Funding will be available to improve sanitation, ventilation, improved animal management techniques and other activities that will have a documented benefit in reducing antibiotic use.  This will keep antibiotics out of our food and water and reduce the possibility of creating antibiotic-resistant microbes.

·      Helping Small Farms     The Act sets new limits on the maximum amount of funding available for the largest conservation programs, guaranteeing that more funding will be available for the backlog of farmers currently waiting for program assistance.  The Act also provides farmers with flexibility by incorporating performance-based, rather than practice-based standards, and by reducing paperwork and red tape through program consolidation. Finally, it doubles the amount of money available to help existing and retiring farmers connect with beginning farmers for the purposes of selling their land.

·      Enhancing Wildlife Habitat     Wetland wildlife will benefit from easement funds being targeted to wetlands that provide the greatest value for migratory birds and other wildlife.  Restoration of wildlife habitat buffers will be a recognized priority for CRP funding.  The bill doubles the percentage of funding allocated to fish and wildlife habitat improvements.  Preservation of wildlife corridors are established as a purpose of some conservation easements for the first time.

·      Protecting Wetlands     The bill provides unprecedented levels of dedicated support for wetlands protection and prioritizes wetland restoration and management throughout the title. 

·      Addressing Climate Change  By allowing farmers to be rewarded for their carbon sequestration efforts through one of the best funded conservation programs, EQIP, the bill will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon storage in farm and ranch soils.  New funding for innovative partnerships will make the federal government a better partner to states that are already working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.  Regional funding is prioritized for farmer-led efforts to increase resilience to rising temperatures and extreme weather.

·      Growing More Pesticide-Free Food The bill expands assistance to help more farmers grow food using organic practices, expands support for integrated pest management techniques that will reduce pesticide use, and funds more expert assistance to help farmers and ranchers adopt new practices.

·      Restoring Endangered Species    Voluntary partnerships between farmers, ranchers and USDA have made a huge contribution to endangered species recovery in the past.  This bill strengthens these programs by allowing more targeting of funds for easements that protect critical habitat, makes wildlife a priority resource throughout the title, and allows program funds to be used to protect or restore endangered species habitat.

·      Saving America’s Prairies     America has already lost more than 99 percent of its tallgrass prairies, and millions of acres of other grasslands are being lost every year.  The bill reduces crop insurance subsidies to farmers who plow up native grasslands and prairies that have never previously been farmed. 

·      Ending Grants for CAFO’s     Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations have previously used significant amounts of conservation funding to build manure lagoons and other structures.  The bill moves structural practices into the conservation loan program, freeing more EQIP funding for organic and small-scale farming and lower-cost conservation projects.

·      Protecting Taxpayers: The bill ensures that taxpayer dollars will be better spent by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the conservation title.  For example more generous funding for permanent easements in place of temporary contracts will ensure that efforts to improve water quality or help wildlife will ‘not disappear after 5 or 15 years.

 

Provisions:

 

America’s farmland is in crisis. High prices have placed unprecedented pressure on the land, reversing many of the environmental gains made by farmers in recent decades. Prairies are being plowed under, wetlands are being destroyed, and drinking water sources are being polluted. What’s more, the long-term productivity of America’s farmland is being depleted, threatening future generations of farmers.

Many farmers are doing their part. Many farmers are taking steps to maintain the productivity of their land for future generations and to produce food in ways that protect the environment. Many more would take steps to protect our farmland and our natural heritage. But, USDA conservation programs, as currently designed, are no match for the challenge because current policies do too little to reward good stewardship and too much to encourage intensive crop and animal production.

Most farmers who seek USDA conservation assistance funding are turned away, and many conservation practices are plowed under when a contract expires land changes hands. What’s more, current policies needlessly encourage farmers to plow up prairie and wetlands or raise animals in confinement.

America’s farmland and natural heritage is worth protecting. American families depend upon farmers to produce healthy food and to manage our land so they remain productive for future generations of farmers. America’s prairies, wetlands, and drinking water sources are also worth protecting. To meet the challenge, Congress must fully fund conservation programs, renew the conservation compact between farmers and taxpayers, and reform conservation programs to stretch scarce conservation funding further.

 

MAJOR PROVISIONS OF THE BALANCING ACT

Strengthening the Conservation Compact

The 1985 farm bill created an important compact – commonly referred to as conservation compliance – between taxpayers and farmers. In return for generous farm subsidies, farmers promised to take simple measures to cut soil erosion and runoff from their most vulnerable cropland and to avoid draining wetlands on land used to grow subsidized crops. The Balancing Act:

·      Relinks the conservation compact to crop insurance premium subsidies. In exchange for generous premium support, the Balancing Act would require farmers to adopt basic environmental protections. Farmers who fail to meet these standards could still purchase crop insurance but would lose federal premium support.

·      Updates soil conservation standards to better protect soil and prevent water pollution;

·      Provides more resources to help farmers develop and implement their conservation plans.

·      Reduces crop insurance subsidies by 50 percent for four years on native prairie that has been plowed up to produce crops.

Targeting the Conservation Reserve Program

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), authorized in 1985, provides annual rental payments to landowners to retire vulnerable or environmentally important land from crop production. CRP leases are for ten years but can be renewed when the lease expires.

The CRP has sparked major improvements in water quality, wildlife habitat and wetlands. But, high crop and land prices are spurring landowners to once again put millions of acres of vulnerable land back under the plow as their CRP leases expire. The Balancing Act phases the CRP down to 23 million acres over five years and uses the savings to take steps to ensure the CRP achieves more long lasting protection of water, wildlife and soil. The Balancing Act:

·      Provides options for landowners to seek long-term or permanent easements to provide more durable protection;

·      Devotes more CRP acres to special initiatives that protect the most environmentally sensitive lands;

·      In particular, 600,000 acres are set-aside each year for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and other initiatives that protect land adjacent to streams and wetlands to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

Reforming the Environmental Quality Incentives Program

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), authorized in 1996, helps farmers take steps to protect natural resources and the environment. EQIP has helped farmers improve their management of millions of acres with big improvements in water quality, wildlife and soil. The Balancing Act increases program funding and takes important steps to increase the effectiveness of the program. The Balancing Act increases funding from $1.4 to $1.75 billion a year (includes funds for the new conservation loan program and for the Conservation Innovation Grants program) and:

·      Places more emphasis on managing farmland and habitat – and places less emphasis on building expensive structures or buying high-priced equipment.

o   The Balancing Act restores the 1996 prohibition on payments to “large confined animal feeding operations” (CAFOs) to build manure storage and other structures.

o   Creates a conservation loan program for farmers who want to invest in high-cost structures or equipment through low-cost direct or guaranteed loans; $200 million per year is provided for direct loans and $150 million for loan guarantees.

o   Increases payments for high-impact but low cost practices management practices that help farmers manage fertilizer, weeds, pests, livestock and irrigation water in ways that prevent pollution and reduce the use of pesticides and antibiotics.

·      Makes the program available to more farmers by lowering the amount of payments an individual person or entity can receive from $300,000 to $150,000.

·      Increases support for farmers making the transition to organic production by eliminating the current cap on payments.

·      Provides new options to help livestock producers reduce their use of non-therapeutic antibiotics and improving the health or their animals.

·      Ramps up the Conservation Innovation program to $100 million per year to provide grants to develop and test new conservation and sustainable farming practices.

Enhancing the Conservation Stewardship Program

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), authorized in 2008, helps farmers and ranchers implement more sustainable and innovative production systems. Producers are rewarded for past performance and provided incentives to undertake new measures to better protect the environment. The Balancing Act sets enrollment at 10 million acres per year at an average cost of $23 per acre and:

·      Raises the bar on the conservation effort needed to be eligible to participate in CSP.

·      Increases the level of protection that must be achieved during the course of a five-year CSP contract.

·      Includes new support for farmers using or making a transition to organic production systems.

·      Provides new payments for ranchers using intensive rotational grazing techniques to produce livestock.

Promoting Greater Collaboration

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) reforms and strengthens the existing Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative. The RCPP will encourage farmers to work together to protect water quality, water supplies or wildlife habitat at watershed or regional scales. Local partners propose projects that are selected on a competitive basis. The Balancing Act:

·      Expands funding and support:

o   All conservation programs will be used to support RCPP projects; currently only EQIP, CSP and WREP can be used.

o   At least 8 percent of the funding provided for conservation programs will be used to support RCPP projects; currently support is capped at 6 percent.

o   Provides $100 million a year for projects over and above the funding secured from supporting conservation programs.

·      Provides funding to local partners to carry out critical activities such as planning, outreach, and monitoring.

·      Focuses resources on protecting water quality and water supplies including “critical conservation areas” designated to protect regionally, nationally or internationally significant bodies of water or sources of municipal or irrigation water.

Consolidating Easement Programs

The Balancing Act consolidates three existing easement programs – The Wetland Reserve Program, The Grassland Reserve Program and the Farmland Protection Program. Two types of easements are created: (1) Wetland Easements that help landowners restore wetlands and adjacent wildlife habitat and (2) Agricultural Land Easements that help landowners protect farmland and ranchland from development. The Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) creates a more streamlined program while retaining all the capabilities of the consolidated programs. The Balancing Act provides $704 million a year for ACEP and sets aside seventy percent of the funding for wetland easements.