U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told an Iowa State Fair audience Friday that he hopes the next farm bill will preserve conservation programs that have been a part of federal farm legislation since the 1930s, as reported by Dan Piller, DesMoinesRegister.com. But the former two-term Iowa governor said economics makes continuation of conservation efforts uncertain.
“There was less interest by farmers in the last round of CRP signups,” Vilsack said, referring to the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program where farmers idle land in return for government payments.
“In an era of high commodity prices and high costs, farmers are under more pressure.”
The next farm bill, Vilsack said, will be a different animal than its predecessors.
“In the past, policy drove money,” Vilsack said. “This time, the financial framework of the budget will drive the farm programs.”
The next farm bill may be one of the fastest assembled in the last eight decades, since the special House/Senate “Gang of 12″ committee tasked with cutting another $2 trillion from the federal budget must have its plans in place by late October.
Farm interests still are divided about whether or not to lobby the special joint committee for favors and programs, or just take their chances and let the automatic 4 percent across-the-board reduction in all programs take place without a fight.
Either way, Vilsack said, he and the USDA won’t submit their own farm bill. “That’s been tried before and it doesn’t work,” Vilsack said. “I have good relationships with the leaders of the agriculture committees, and we’ll work together through the process.”
Vilsack acknowledged that the future of direct payments is endangered. The payments have put $15.4 billion into the hands of Iowa farmers since 1996, but budget constraints and an era of high commodity prices and farm incomes raise questions about their need.
But that has worried conservation groups, who note that direct payments carry with them obligations to comply with federal conservation laws and regulations.
Crop and disaster insurance coverage carries no such leverage.
“I’m very worried about what will happen to conservation in the next farm bill,” said Duane Sand, public policy director for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.
In answer to Sand’s question about support for conservation in the budget and farm bill processes, Vilsack said: “We probably need to be more creative. There is a need to develop conservation programs that perhaps sweeten the pot and show a return on investment to encourage farmers to participate.”
(Source: DesMoinesRegister.com | Dan Piller)