House Fires Shotgun at Ag Programs

Scattered cuts approach gores a few oxes, and will put pressure on the Senate from all sides.

Published on: Jun 17, 2011

The U.S. House approved a $125 billion ag spending bill this week that while sounding generous, makes some tough cuts moving forward. Conservation groups were upset with the cuts on the measure. In fact, the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation both fired shots at the measure.

EDF noted that cutting conservation programs by $1 billion is "bad policy that the Senate needs to fix." In commenting on the bill, Sara Hopper, ag policy director, says "draconian cuts to voluntary conservation programs that help farmers and ranchers provide all Americans with cleaner air and water, more productive soils and habitat for wildlife is penny-wise and dollar foolish."

Last month, more than 50 agriculture and conservation groups sent a letter to House members urging them to “ensure that reasonable funding levels are continued” for USDA conservation programs. “These conservation programs are crucial to the health and viability of agriculture and rural America,” said the letter signed by the 50+ agriculture and conservation groups, including Environmental Defense Fund and the National Young Farmers’ Coalition.

The House-passed bill today includes large cuts to two extremely popular working lands programs that have improved soil, air, and water quality on farms and ranches across the country: the Conservation Stewardship Program ($210 million cut) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program ($350 million cut). There often are more applications for the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program than funds available for either program, EDF says.

The bill would fund USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Commodity Futures Trading Commission for fiscal year 2012. The measure cuts funding for food safety and nutrition programs. There's also a cut in funding for investing in ethanol infrastructure at the same time the Senate has shown itself to be against supporting ethanol with a tax credit.

The CFTC budget at $172 million is far less than the $308 million sought by the Obama Administration, and less than the agency's current $202 million budget.

The House measure would also stop payments to Brazil that is part of a program to keep that country from placing duties on U.S. goods. The money - $12.28 million per month - is part of a World Trade Organization settlement over cotton supports. Some say cutting off those Brazil payments would start a trade war with the South American country.

The spending measure still has to be approved in the Senate, and lobbyists are lining up to get their point across on a range of issues.