Gore Proposes $1.3 Billion to Help Farmers Save the Environment
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, January 7, 2000 (ENS) - Vice President Al Gore announced today that the Clinton administration will seek almost $1.3 billion in the fiscal year 2001 budget for conservation programs that help family farmers take steps to protect water quality and the environment and to preserve farmland. This conservation package is part of a larger administration budget proposal to strengthen the farm safety net.
The centerpiece of the proposal is a new $600 million program providing additional income to family farmers who voluntarily adopt comprehensive plans to curb erosion and protect water supplies from pesticide and nutrient runoff. An additional $125 million will be used to provide opportunities for farmers to benefit through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for farmers to establish buffer strips along waterways to improve water quality.
An additional $550 million will be used to strengthen several other USDA programs to assist farmers with conservation and environmental efforts. These programs include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. This funding will be used to expand technical assistance for farmers and ranchers for conservation efforts and expand the Farmland Protection Program.
Gore, preparing for the crucial Iowa caucuses that will help choose a Democratic presidential candidate, praised Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Leonard Boswell, both Iowa Democrats, for their involvement in helping to develop this policy.
"Senator Harkin, a long time and well known friend of agriculture was particularly instrumental in shaping this program to best help the interests of America's working farmers," said Gore.
The proposal, totaling nearly $1.3 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2001 mandatory funding, would:
New legislation would have to be passed by Congress to enact nearly all of the proposals. Only the increased bonuses for "continuous signs ups" could be established without congressional action.
Conservation Security Program
The new Conservation Security Program, as proposed by Senator Harkin, would provide annual payments to farmers and ranchers who implement certain conservation practices. Payment levels would be based on the range and comprehensiveness of the practices, which could include comprehensive nutrient management, prescribed grazing, grassed waterways and windbreaks.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
EQIP, a key component of President Bill Clinton’s Clean Water Action Plan, provides financial, technical and educational assistance to farmers and ranchers who wish to implement conservation practices on land used for production. By law, half of the program funds must be used to address livestock related concerns. Eligible practices include animal waste management, integrated pest management, habitat restoration and livestock water development.
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)
The WRP offers technical and financial assistance to farmers who wish to restore and protect agricultural wetlands. USDA provides up to 100 percent of the wetland restoration costs and up to 100 percent of the fair market agricultural value of the land in return for permanent or 30 year easements or wetlands restoration cost share agreements.
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
The CRP provides farmers with technical and financial assistance, including annual rental payments, in exchange for removing environmentally sensitive land from production and implementing conservation practices such as wildlife habitat restoration and field windbreaks. The initiative increases the CRP cap set by the 1996 Farm Bill by 3.6 million acres to 40 million acres, allowing more than twice as many acres to sign up in FY 2001 as would be allowed under current law.
"Continuous Sign-up" Bonuses under the CRP allow farmers to enroll certain high priority practices such as grassed waterways, filter strips and riparian buffers at any time during the year. These bonuses encourage enrollment throughout the year by offsetting the costs of installing environmental equipment.
Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP)
WHIP offers cost share assistance for up to 75 percent of wildlife habitat restoration expenses and technical assistance. Eligible practices include native grass restoration, riparian area restoration and aquatic habitat establishment. Funding for this program provided by the 1996 Farm Bill has been exhausted, and the Initiative would provide $50 million per year for it.
The new Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) would provide additional technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to carry out these enhanced programs and maximize environmental protection.
This conservation Initiative will be financed as part of the FY 2001 balanced budget that President Clinton will submit to Congress on February 7, 2000.