Lawmakers decided as part of the 2018 farm policy law to expand the voluntary Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners an annual rent in exchange for idling fragile farmland for 10 years or longer. Although the expansion was expected to be popular — offering steady income after years of low commodity prices — it hasn't panned out. Enrollment continues a decline that began in 2007.
Some growers may collect three or even four payments on land where they were unable to plant a crop this spring due to persistent rain and flooding, but no one is going to get rich off of it, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday.
Two Republicans joined the Democratic minority in the Senate on Wednesday to defeat a White House proposal to cut federal spending by $15 billion. The cuts were intended as a counterweight to the $1.3 trillion spending bill approved in March.
The Republican-sponsored House farm bill unveiled on Thursday would expand the land-idling Conservation Reserve by one-fifth and eliminate the green-payment Conservation Stewardship Program.
The USDA spends several billion dollars a year on voluntary land stewardship programs. With the 2018 farm bill on the horizon, two members of the House Agriculture Committee have unveiled legislation that would require the USDA to evaluate and report on the impact of the soil and water projects it bankrolls.
The senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, and Iowa Republican Joni Ernst have proposed a tripling of funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program as part of legislation that would give the program more flexibility.
When Congress writes the 2018 farm bill, lawmakers should retain the requirement for producers to practice land stewardship if they want coverage under the federally subsidized crop insurance system, said the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. In The Hill newspaper, NSAC policy specialist Alyssa Charney also called for stronger enforcement of the so-called conservation compliance rules.
The Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners to idle fragile cropland, should be expanded to 40 million acres from its current 24 million acres, said Pheasants Forever, a hunting and wildlife habitat group, at the first congressional subcommittee hearing for the 2018 farm bill. Land stewardship and farm groups urged larger funding for two USDA programs aimed at working lands.
The maximum payment through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program will rise to $450,000 from the current $300,000, said USDA ahead of publishing an interim final rule that would incorporate changes made by the 2014 farm law.