President Bush will propose a record $3.9 billion for conservation for fiscal year 2004, an increase of $582 million over the previous year's funding, according to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. The amount is more than double the funding level of these programs just two years ago.
Nearly $3.5 billion of the President's proposal will be used for financial assistance or other direct payments to farmers, including:
$2 billion for the Conservation Reserve Program, for rental and other costs on new and old acreage. That's an increase of about $140 million;
$850 million for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program;
$250 million for the Wetlands Reserve Program to enroll an additional 178,000 acres;
$112 million for the Farmland Protection Program, which is $27 million over 2003's funding level;
$85 million for the Grassland Reserve Program, a $13 million increase over 2003's level;
$42 million for the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, an increase of $16 million over 2003's level.
This budget ensures that all of the cost-share and technical-assistance conservation work authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill for fiscal year 2004 will be delivered. USDA will use an additional $432 million, through a new Farm Bill Technical Assistance account, to ensure that farmers and ranchers can access the technical work necessary to fully utilize the conservation programs' financial assistance. This new account is necessary because of a statutory cap that restricts USDA's ability to pay for technical assistance from farm program funds.