The Final Farm Bill: Global Warming Tally

Britt LundgrenThis post is by Britt Lundgren, an agricultural policy specialist at Environmental Defense Fund.

Last month I posted about the gridlock over the 2008 Farm Bill, and discussed how different programs in the Farm Bill might impact global warming. The conference report (final version of the bill) has now been issued, and Congress is scheduled to vote on it today.

How did it turn out? The final bill includes important new investments in conservation, but doesn’t do enough to expand and improve conservation programs, or reform our antiquated system of farm subsidies.

Here are the details.

Some Funding for Conservation

The bill includes $4 billion in new funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s voluntary conservation incentives programs, and $1 billion in new funding for renewable energy programs.

Conservation Incentive Programs

  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Security Program provide incentives for farmers to switch to low-carbon farming practices such as conservation tillage.

    Funding for both of these programs is increased.

  • The Conservation Reserve Program provides financial and technical assistance to farmers who take environmentally sensitive lands out of production, and restore them by planting native grasses or trees. This sequesters carbon as well as restoring wildlife habitat.

    Enrollment in this program is reduced to 32 million acres. The current cap is 39 million acres, with actual enrollment of about 36 million acres.

Renewable Energy Programs

  • The 9006 program – renamed the Rural Energy for America Program – shares the cost of conducting an energy audit on a farm or installing renewable energy technology – for example, methane biodigesters, windmills, or solar panels.

    This program got new funding.

  • A new program – called the Biomass Energy Reserve in the House bill and the Biomass Crop Transition Assistance Program in the Senate bill – fosters bioenergy technology through incentives for planting new cellulosic feedstocks.

    This program, now called Biomass Crop Assistance Program, received new funding.

A Disastrous One-Two Punch

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill included a Sodsaver provision that would have barred crop insurance, and withheld some disaster payments to producers who plowed native grasslands to plant crops. But conference committee members gutted this provision during meetings that were not open to the public.

At the same time, the conference committee added almost $4 billion in new subsidies for a Permanent Disaster Fund. This is a real disaster for the nation’s remaining native prairies; it will accelerate the conversion of grassland to intensive crop production.

In a report issued last fall [PDF], the Government Accountability Office found that loss of grasslands – more than 25 million acres since 1982 – has been driven by the availability of crop insurance, disaster payments, and other farm subsidies.

Together, Sodsaver and the Permanent Disaster Fund are a one-two punch against conservation of native prairie, and carbon sequestration by grasslands. Add to this the pressure on grasslands from high crop prices and you have a perfect storm for environmental destruction on the Great Plains.

President Bush has already promised to veto this bill. If he follows through on this threat, we’d like to see prompt action by Congress to send the bill back with at least as much money for conservation programs, a strong Sodsaver provision, and meaningful reforms of farm subsidies.

Late news: The House just voted to pass the bill 318 to 106 – a veto proof margin. The Senate vote will be tomorrow.

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  1. Posted May 15, 2008 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    More News…

    The Senate just voted on the Farm Bill Conference Report – 81 yes, 15 no. As with the House, this is a veto-proof margin. The President has promised to veto the bill, but the votes make it clear that the veto is unlikely to be sustained.

  2. Posted January 8, 2010 at 2:57 am | Permalink

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