On May 8th, Environmental Defense released the following statement from senior attorney Tim Searchinger on expected final passage of the farm bill conference report by the U.S. Senate.
"The farm bill represented a rare opportunity to reward farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners for taking steps to help the environment. Unfortunately, Congress decided instead to reward the nation's largest farmers for plowing up environmentally critical grasslands and woodlands to grow ever larger surpluses of feed grains, rice and cotton.
"Under the new law, only 18% of payments to farmers support conservation — down from one-third in the last farm bill. And because Congress has failed to meet even current demand for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation spending, at least one-third of farmers and ranchers seeking USDA assistance to protect water quality and curb sprawl will continue to be rejected in the coming years.
"While the Senate-passed Farm bill strongly supported the most valuable conservation programs to protect crop and grasslands from sprawl, restore wetlands and enhance wildlife habitat, the bill approved by the Senate today disproportionately cuts funding for the most valuable programs. Some of the 'conservation' spending approved by the Senate today will actually harm the environment by funding the construction of huge manure lagoons and dams.
"The most significant environmental problem is that the bill provides huge incentives to plow up native grasslands, in part because a key reform to curtail these perverse incentives was surrendered by Senate negotiators. The result will be the loss of millions of acres of wildlife habitat and increased runoff of pollution into our rivers, lakes and bays. The increases in conservation spending are outweighed by the environmental threats posed by the unprecedented incentives to overproduce feed grains, rice and cotton. For every acre of wildlife habitat saved as a result of this farm bill, two or more acres of habitat will be destroyed.
"Reasonable limits on subsidies designed to protect small farmers were also deleted. As a result, a small number of large farmers in a handful of states will continue to receive most farm spending, while the vast majority of farmers will continue to receive little or no USDA assistance. Thanks to this farm bill, large farmers will also have unprecedented funds to swallow up their smaller neighbors."
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