The Senate version, which passed on June 28, skirted many controversies that bogged down the House bill (H.R. 2) in May, such as crop insurance subsidies and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, the committee’s ranking member, crafted the bill and many of its amendment packages together to create a bill intended to appeal to both parties and ease passage.
The Senate bill would retain the Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides financial and technical assistance for working lands, but reduces the acreage cap to 8.8 million acres from 10 million acres per year in the 2014 Farm Bill. The bill would also expand allowances for haying and grazing on lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. The acreage cap for the CRP would be raised from 24 million to 25 million, with the rental rate set at 88.5 percent of market rates. The bill would also create the Conservation Reserve Easement Program, which would allow expiring easements to enroll as permanent easements. While the Senate version would reduce spending on some programs, the Congressional Budget Office predicts it would cause no net change in funding for conservation programs.
This is at odds with the House version, which would eliminate the CSP and move some of its features into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The CRP acreage cap would be raised by 1 million acres annually until reaching 29 million by 2023. This would allow more acres to be enrolled in the program, but the rental rate would be set at 80 percent of market price, meaning farmers would be paid less, possibly making it less appealing compared to keeping the land in production. While funding levels for some individual programs would be raised, overall funding levels for conservation programs would fall by $0.8 billion, or about 14 percent.
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