Congressional negotiators finalized an agreement to include $3.1 billion in disaster aid for U.S. producers in the final federal budget bill for fiscal year 2003, but conservation will suffer as a result.

Under the House/Senate compromise, disaster aid will be paid for with offsetting cuts in other ag spending, rather than across-the-board cuts as the Senate proposed. Specifically, that will mean almost halving funding for the highly-publicized new Conservation Security Program created by the 2002 Farm Bill.

Drought aid will also be targeted differently. Crop producers will have to show a 35% crop loss to qualify for disaster relief.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) warned a dangerous precedent has been set.

“Breaking open the Farm Bill before it has even been implemented is a very serious matter,” he says. “This is a dangerous precedent, which we strongly opposed throughout the course of these negotiations.”