The Federal Farm Bill provides funding that offers farmers financial and technical assistance to implement best management practices, such as contour farming (above) to improve the health and productivity of their farms and local waterways. Photo courtesy NRCS Maryland
The Federal Farm Bill:
Funding Conservation That Counts
October 2013 Update: What You Need to Know About the Farm Bill
Farmers rely on federal Farm Bill conservation programs to help conserve soil and nutrients, and to meet state water quality requirements. The Farm Bill is updated by Congress approximately every five years, with the latest bill (aka the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008) having expired in September 2012. Unable to pass a new bill at the time, Congress extended the 2008 bill to September 2013, but that extension expired September 30, 2013. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate passed Farm Bills that we hope will soon be reconciled and signed into law.
What Does the Farm Bill Have to Do with Water Quality?
The Farm Bill contributes more than any other legislation to water quality improvement in the nation. The voluntary conservation efforts supported through the Farm Bill improve the health of our local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. Many farmers have adopted conservation tillage, cover crops, soil erosion controls, barnyard improvements, streamside buffers and fencing, nutrient management, and other conservation practices that have reduced both nutrient and sediment runoff to our waterways.
Oddly enough, the water quality pieces are also among the smallest components of the Farm Bill. Because conservation programs comprise only 5.7 percent of the total Farm Bill cost, cutting them will not make a significant dent in the overall budget. It would, however, cause great harm to farmers working to protect soil and water.
Roughly $250 million in financial and technical assistance for farmers is at stake. This important conservation funding is needed to implement the erosion and nutrient pollution controls that will help achieve the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint goals. CBF continues to weigh in strongly with senators and representatives, asking that Congress finish the Farm Bill and provide this important conservation funding.
The benefits to both farmers and the Chesapeake Bay region are three-fold:
- they improve soil quality and animal health,
- they help farmers do their part to restore water quality and wildlife habitat,
- and they improve the farm's profitability and sustainability.
Farmers are eager to improve their farms and conservation program support is in great demand. Unfortunately, for every three farmers applying to the US Department of Agriculture for assistance, only one has been able to sign a contract due to funding limitations. These conservation programs, like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) are worth the investment. Find out more about these programs and CBF's policy on the Farm Bill
Farm Conservation Efforts And the Cost of Clean Water
Did you know that reducing pollution from farms is the most cost effective way to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution so detrimental to the health of our waterways? It costs a sewage treatment plant $10 and a farmer $1 to reduce the same amount of pollution.
The federal Clean Water Act requires all states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution for clean and healthy streams, and a restored Chesapeake Bay. States in the Bay watershed, are accountable for reporting pollution reduction practices every two years. These are known as Milestones.
These Milestones call for everyone, from sewage treatment plants and construction companies to farmers and urban residents, to do their part. And in today's economy everyone is looking for the most cost effective solutions. It's clear that conservation program funding, which requires farmers to contribute their own money and sweat as a match, has never been more important.
Strong conservation programs with proven track records require adequate funding to reach the goals outlined in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and to meet Milestone commitments. It is crucial that farmers have federal support for practices that count towards meeting those goals.
Farm Conservation Efforts And the Economy
And conservation funding doesn't just benefit farmers and clean water, it is critical to rural economies. In Virginia, a study determined each public conservation dollar spent spins off $1.56 in local economic activity. In addition, if funded statewide to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals, these programs could generate more than 11,700 new Virginia jobs of a year's duration.
Thriving, well-managed farmlands are especially important in the Chesapeake Bay region because they are vital to the long-term health of the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams, contribute significantly to the region's economy, and create jobs that stay here at home.
- In Maryland, agriculture contributes almost $8 billion annually to the state's economy. Approximately 350,000 people are employed in some aspect of agriculture, making it the largest commercial industry in Maryland. It also remains the largest single use of land in the state, accounting for one-third of the state's total land area. In 2007, Maryland's total farm production revenue exceeded $2.38 billion.
- In Pennsylvania, agriculture generates more than $6 billion annually with 63,000 families working more than 7.7 million acres of land. In total, agriculture and related industries contributed more than $60 billion to the state's economy.
- In Virginia, agriculture and related industries are valued at more than $55 billion, sustain more than 350,000 jobs, and work more than 8 million acres of land.
Learn more about the 2008 Farm Bill (PDF 0.24MB)
Find out more about farm conservation and the economy