A farmer seeds beans in a field. Photo by Carrie Vaughn/CBF Staff
October Update: What You Need to Know
About the Farm Bill
You may have noticed the federal "Farm Bill" has been in the news quite a bit recently. This bill is extremely important because it can support agricultural conservation practices (see below for specific programs), which are the most cost-efficient way to reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.
The current bill expired September 30, 2013, and along with it, critical conservation bills that protect our local water quality.
To help you navigate through all the noise, here's a quick rundown of what's happening with this program that is so important to Bay farmers as well as to everyone rolling up their sleeves to implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint:
- The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have passed their own versions of this bill and they are moving forward on working out their differences in a final bill that will be written by a conference committee. All of the conferees—the 41 members of both the House and Senate who will iron out the details of the final bill—have been appointed, and they are scheduled to get to work on October 28;
- The Chesapeake Bay delegation in both the House and Senate have negotiated hard for support of Bay state farmers in the new bill, writing letters to House and Senate Agriculture Committees and urging their support of specialized, technical programs, which support farmers in areas of critical need, such as the Chesapeake Bay region;
- As you may recall, last year the Senate passed a Farm Bill, but the House failed to do so. This year, CBF staked out a position in support of last year's Senate language and has encouraged the Chesapeake Bay delegation to do the same. Many have. We have also worked with a coalition of national and regional conservation groups to create a set of "Conservation Principles" that include support for last year's Senate language;
- CBF continues to work closely with members of Congress, urging them to support Farm Bill funds that will help Bay state farmers save local rivers, streams, and the Bay.
Farm Bill Programs Essential to Bay Conservation
There are three U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that are critical to Bay farmers' efforts to meet their state pollution-reduction targets on agricultural lands: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, and the Conservation Reserve Program/Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
- The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) shares the costs with farmers for installing basic on-farm practices required in state plans. Bay states receive a portion of funds from this national program to focus on priority practices such as those that improve water quality. In all watershed states, demand for this program exceeds supply.
- The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program/the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program was established in the 2008 Farm Bill, and has provided an additional $238 million in EQIP funds for farmers located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed specifically for on-farm practices that improve water quality. This additional level of cost-share support has been critical for them to meet their state Blueprint goals. In the House and Senate versions of the 2013 Farm Bill, this program is eliminated. CBF is fighting to ensure that the final Farm Bill establishes a "Regional Conservation Partnership Program" that provides the same amount of targeted support for Bay farmers. To date, the Senate-passed version of the RCPP provides the most targeted funding for farmers in the watershed region.
- The Conservation Reserve Program/Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) helps landowners to restore streams that run through their land by taking adjacent land out of production for 10 to 15 years and installing conservation measures. In Bay watershed states, landowners help states meet their aggressive stream-restoration goals by planting trees that stabilize soil on stream banks, reduce soil erosion and lower water temperatures by creating shade, and by installing fencing that keeps animals out of streams. Learn more about CREP
New Program Is on the Table
The conference committee will also be making final decisions about a new program that could really help the Bay: The Regional Conservation Partnership Program. This new program will provide targeted support for areas of the country with particularly difficult conservation issues, like the water quality issues we have in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Most members of Congress from our watershed believe the Senate has created the best version of this program and are encouraging their leadership in the House to agree to accept that version during the conference. In fact, this fall, they joined with members from the Great Lakes and wrote a bipartisan letter to their leadership. In this letter, they said:
"The Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes are national treasures and economic engines in their respective regions, but they face significant water quality concerns. We believe that the Senate [version of the] Regional Conservation Partnership Program . . . would provide the best opportunity to support the farmers in our states and achieve important conservation gains and urge you to include it in the final conference agreement."
CBF is committed to clean water in our Bay, rivers, and streams for us and future generations. We're grateful for your support and will continue to work and walk the halls of Congress to keep clean water and a healthy Chesapeake Bay at the forefront of our representatives' minds. We will keep you posted as things progress on the Hill!
Learn more about how farm bill-supported conservation programs help farmers and the Bay in our Farmer Success Stories blog series.
Tell Congress to protect conservation programs—which are critical to restoring the Bay—in the farm bill!