Which is more important? Preserving
and restoring wetlands, or encouraging new farmers and ranchers? Policymakers drafting the 2012 Farm Bill may
face this challenging decision. A recent Congressional Research Service report identified 37 programs that are underfunded or set to expire early in
the farm bill’s next passage.
Several of the unfunded programs
focus on land conservation and organic agriculture, including the Wetlands
Reserve Program (WRP), Grassland Reserve
Program, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Farmers Market Promotion Program, National Organic Certification Cost Share and
These programs, which account for
$9 to $10 billion of the bill’s total budget, do not have mandatory baseline
funding that extends beyond 2012. To fund these endangered programs, the money will have to
come from other areas of the bill, potentially setting the stage for battles
between small-scale organic farmers and advocates of wetlands conservation.
While these programs account for a mere 4 percent of the
$238 billion total five-year cost of the farm bill, they are vitally important
for the development of sustainable agriculture and protection of habitat. As
pointed out by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, “The $9-10 billion
represents nearly a third of the cost of the 2008 Farm Bill that was not
commodity programs, crop insurance or food stamps.”
To learn more about the threat to these programs and the
2012 Farm Bill, check out “Previewing the Next Farm Bill: Unfunded and Early-Expiring Provisions” published by the
Congressional Research Service.
Tell us your ideas: How can Congress construct a Farm Bill that doesn’t leave these important programs high and dry?
Photo from Flickr.com/ bill barber