“The news on federal conservation funding this year is good," says Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust. "Congress made vast improvements to initial budget proposals, and we appreciate that Congress made this appropriation during difficult economic times. However, there is always room to do more when it comes to conservation.
"Farms and ranches are a cost-effective place to make improvements in conservation and stewardship practices that help protect our air, land and water," adds Scholl. "Investing in conservation is a key solution to address the loss of farmland, reduced water quality and climate change."
Overall, the FY10 agriculture appropriation includes the funding levels set under the 2008 Farm Bill for conservation program, except for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The program was limited to $1.18 billion, a reduction of $270 million. "Since it's a working lands program, it encourages farmers to undertake the stewardship practices we want to see from planting buffer strips near streams, add fencing to keep animals out of streams, and more,” he says.
"A bright spot in the budget is funding for the Conservation Loan Program," adds Scholl. "This is a program AFT proposed in the 2008 Farm Bill that would provide a supplemental tool in our nation's conservation toolbox." Program funding was locked in at $150 million, with $75 million allocated to direct loans and $75 million allocated to loan guarantees.
Farmers and ranchers repeatedly indicate that conservation system costs limit their ability to apply suitable measures to their acreage. "While the 2008 Farm Bill increased the amount of cost-share funding for conservation, we know not every project that every producer wants to apply onto their land will be funded," says Scholl. "Producers in the past who wanted to upgrade animal waste handling systems might not have been able to due to a lack of cost-share assistance. Now with the Conservation Loan Program, producers who want to apply better stewardship practices can do so with government-backed loans. That's great news!"
In terms of protecting working farm and ranchland, Congress was able to preserve funding for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) at the level specified in the 2008 Farm Bill. "And it's a critical time to maintain and expand the federal matching money to protect farm and ranch land. State, county, local and private funds are strapped with requests from farmers who want to protect their farms. Waiting lists at programs are growing," says Scholl. "That's why I say there's always more work to be done."