WINTER 2007                               water, land, life.

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Federal Farm Bill Could Bring More Than
$300 Million for Conservation to Pa.

For more than two years, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has been working to insure the 2007 farm bill has strong conservation and forestry components. As of this writing, the news is promising. This past summer, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced and passed a Farm Bill with an increase of $8 billion for conservation programs. Now the Senate must meet that high-set bar.

The farm bill is one of the broadest pieces of authorizing legislation that Congress considers. Every five years the bill renews and sets spending levels for crop subsidy payments, food stamps, school lunch programs, rural development and, of course, conservation and forestry. It has implications for everything from foreign trade to domestic renewable energy development to nutrition and obesity. The total price tag on the last farm bill, passed in 2002, was more than $270 billion. Although two-thirds of that total goes to subsidy payments (mostly in other states), $18.3 billion for conservation spending is no small amount and represents one of the federal government’s largest investments in protecting our vulnerable lands and waters.

The conservation programs in the farm bill available to the farmers and forestland owners in Southwestern Pennsylvania greatly impact WPC’s land and water goals for the region. For example, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a land retirement program that provides financial incentives for farmers to take already marginal land out of production and support
conservation objectives. Back in 2004, WPC was instrumental in creating a CREP for the Ohio River basin and has been involved in getting the word out to eligible farmers ever since. Pennsylvania is proud to have the largest CREP program in the country.

Other programs funded by the farm bill have substantial impacts on our state. The Farm and Ranchland Protection Program provides matching funds to help purchase development rights in order to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides cost-sharing assistance to help farmers install practices that are smarter for the environment, such as manure management and streambank fencing.

One significant change in this year’s farm bill is the incorporation of sustainable forestry objectives into the EQIP program. For the first time, forestland owners will have access to the same tools and funds that farmers have enjoyed.

While many of the programs under the farm bill are, at first glance, a confusing “alphabet soup” of government acronyms, many are critical to WPC and support our conservation goals. These programs enable our Freshwater Conservation Program staff to help interested farmers and forestland owners navigate the maze and find the program that best supports land-management and conservation goals.