Date of this Version
Soil and water conservation topics are prominent in discussions of policy options for the next farm bill, which the 110th Congress is considering. Major conservation topics include where to set overall funding levels and levels for each program; what should be the priorities for the conservation effort; and deciding whether any existing programs or activities should be modified or eliminated and whether new programs or activities should be added to the effort. Addressing these topics often pits supporters of commodity programs and the traditional farm program benefits against those who would like to see an expanded conservation effort.
The House passed its version of the farm bill on July 27, 2007 (H.R. 2419) by a vote of 231 to 191. Numerous options for conservation provisions were offered as the legislation moved through the House, but the conservation title was passed largely as reported by the Agriculture Committee and modified by a chairman’s mark. This legislation would increase funding for many conservation programs and add a number of small new programs to the conservation portfolio while delaying further implementation of the Conservation Security Program until FY2012. The Senate passed its version of this legislation on December 14 (H.R. 2419, amended) by a vote of 79 to 14, after adopting a wide-ranging manager’s amendment. This legislation would create a new Conservation Stewardship Program that combines features of the Conservation Security and Environmental Quality Incentives Programs. It would provide level funding for most existing conservation programs and create several new programs within existing programs.
The House- and Senate-passed versions differ in numerous ways that will have to be resolved by the conference committee; the most significant of these differences is that the House version allows no new signups in the Conservation Security Program (CSP) until FY2012 while the Senate version replaces the CSP with a new Conservation Stewardship Program and requires that more than 13 million acres be enrolled annually. While the House bill would increase conservation funding by more than $4.5 billion and the Senate bill would increase it by almost $4.8 billion, the differences in which programs would be increased, and by how much, must also be resolved.
Congressional appropriators influence the scope and scale of conservation programs annually. The President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, on December 26, 2007. It provides funding for the rest of FY2008. It makes several adjustments to funding for conservation programs (for example, limiting funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to $1.0 billion), extends funding for three farm bill programs that expired at the end of FY2007 through March 15, 2008, and includes a 0.7% across-the-board rescission.