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.

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Vice President Gore, now a Presidential candidate, announced more than a billion dollars in initiatives to help farmers today (Photo courtesy The White House)
"Farmers are among the most important stewards of our land and water," Gore said. "Despite the accomplishments made in recent years in stopping soil erosion and protecting water quality, agriculture's environmental challenges are multiplying. The initiatives that I am announcing today will provide needed financial support to our family farmers as well as tremendous environmental benefits for the American people."

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.

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Gore's proposals would help farmers and ranchers who set aside land for wildlife or help preserve water quality (Photo by Gene Alexander. Four photos courtesy USDA)
The proposal also asks Congress to expand CRP so that an additional four million acres of farmland - for a total of 40 million acres - may be enrolled in the program.

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.

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The program would offer financial and technical assistance to help prevent animal wastes from fouling waterways (Photo by Erwin Cole)
Gore said the administration believes that conservation measures can strengthen the safety net for U.S. farmers, by providing assistance to farmers and ranchers who practice environmentally sound land management. Through the USDA programs supported by the Initiative, participants can receive cost share assistance, technical assistance, and in many cases, annual payments, for high priority conservation activities, including wetlands restoration, farmland protection, and comprehensive nutrient management.

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.

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The Wetlands Reserve Program aids farmers who protect and preserve agricultural wetlands (Two photos by Ron Nichols)
The 1996 Farm Bill authorized the WRP to enroll 975,000 acres, all but 40,000 acres of which will be enrolled by the end of FY 2000. The Initiative would remove the cap and enroll an additional 210,000 acres in FY 2001, for a total of 250,000 acres, and an additional 250,000 acres in each subsequent year.

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.

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The Farmland Protection Program offers money to protect farmland threatened by sprawl
Farmland Protection Program (FPP)
The FPP, part of the President's Lands Legacy Initiative, provides matching funds - up to 50 percent of the fair market farmland value - to state, local, and Tribal governments to permanently protect farmland threatened by development from urban and suburban sprawl, through the purchase of easements that preserve the land for farm use. Funding for this program provided by the 1996 Farm Bill has been exhausted, and the Initiative would provide $65 million per year in new funding.

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.

Technical Assistance
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.