The health of our children, the quality of our food and the cleanliness of our water all may be impacted by the new Farm Bill pending in Congress. Farm Bill provisions reach far beyond crop producers and dairy farmers, according to Blue Earth County educator Kent Thiesse of the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

"Food and Nutrition and other social-type programs make up a big part of U.S. Department of Agriculture funding," says Thiesse. "In 2000, $36.5 billion, or approximately 40 percent of USDA funding, was for programs in this category."

The federal Government Budget Office has set $73.5 billion as the targeted amount for new spending by a new Farm Bill over a ten-year period, Thiesse points out. This is in addition to current baseline funding for current federal programs covered by the Farm Bill. Both the Senate and House have passed versions of a new Farm Bill allocating the $73.5 billion.

"In late March, the House and Senate Conference Committee agreed on 10-year spending allocations for the various 'titles' or segments covered in Farm Bill provisions," says Thiesse. "The committee allocated $46 billion in new spending to the 'commodity title' and associated programs."

Commodity title programs include "fixed payments" and new "counter-cyclical payments" on crops, Thiesse points out. The programs also include price supports through the Commodity Credit Corporation loan program and loan deficiency payments for all "program crops" the Farm Bill covers. The new legislation adds soybeans and other oilseed crops as program crops. It also adds $2.6 billion in new spending for dairy, sugar and peanut programs that aren't covered by other commodity provisions.

"In 2000, spending on farm-related programs accounted for approximately 30 percent of total USDA spending," Thiesse says.

The next largest chunk of new spending in the Farm Bill proposals is $17.1 billion over 10 years for the "conservation title," says Thiesse. That's about $1.7 billion per year in new spending, more than double the dollar amount the USDA spent on conservation programs as recently as 2000. The added conservation funding would enhance popular programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Improvement Program and wetlands programs. It could also provide funding for some potential new conservation initiatives.

The funding agreement for the new farm bill allocates an additional $6.4 billion over the next 10 years for the "nutrition title." This includes additional funding for food stamps and a variety of other food and nutrition assistance and education programs.

Thiesse says the Conference Committee funding agreement also allocates an additional $3.3 billion for the other "titles" covered by the new Farm Bill. These cover rural development, research and education, food safety and many other programs.

The Senate version of the new Farm Bill would fund a comprehensive technology and communications system and infrastructure upgrades for rural communities. Both the House and Senate versions would fund "value-added" agricultural initiatives and other rural economic development programs. The Senate version also includes a new and separate "energy title" for development of renewable energy sources such as ethanol and bio-diesel.