Federal bill to continue budget includes items of interest to farmers
As Congress struggles to find its way through the many budgetary and financial problems of the federal government, a new bill has been passed for short-term funding that is on its way to President Obama's desk for signing.
The House of Representatives finalized that resolution, HR 933, a short-term funding measure, on a vote of 318-109 on Thursday morning, March 21.
Senate passage of what is also called a continuing resolution occurred a day earlier on a 73-26 vote.
The measure is designed to fund federal government operations for the remaining six months of the 2013 fiscal year. The continuing resolution was needed to avoid a shutdown of the federal government on March 27, when current funding was set to expire.
Tucked into the bill are provisions that are of interest to farmers. A couple of those items have some groups happy and others crying fowl depending on whether or not their particular ox is being gored.
One of the groups in the unhappy camp is "Food Democracy Now."
The group, a "national grassroots movement to build a safe, sustainable food system" is urging Obama to veto the continuing resolution.
The group said that tucked into the huge spending bill is what they call a "poison pill," Section 735, also called the "Monsanto Protection Act", which they said gives biotech companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical more freedom on the approval of new genetically engineered crops.
Since the bill's passage with the "biotech rider," more than 100,000 members of the group have signed onto a petition to stop the Monsanto Protection Act from being signed into law.
The biotech provision was slipped into the legislation anonymously and if signed into law would grant the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to override a judicial ruling stopping the planting of a genetically modified crop.
"Americans are outraged that Congress has once again brokered a backroom deal that undermines our basic democratic rights to favor irresponsible chemical and biotech seed companies like Monsanto," said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now.
He claims his movement includes more than 400,000 farmers and citizens "dedicated to protecting family farm agriculture and the environment."
"For the past 20 years, Americans have been kept in the dark about the food they eat and the science behind it because our elected officials and regulatory agencies would rather cozy up to biotech giants like Monsanto and DuPont than work to faithfully represent the will of their constituents," Murphy said.
"Passing the Monsanto Protection Act is the last straw for millions of Americans who are tired of being betrayed by their elected officials," continued Murphy.
For the past year, family farm advocates and legal experts have fought to stop the Monsanto Protection Act, because they say it undermines the ability of federal courts to protect family farmers and the environment from untested genetically engineered (GMO) crops, he added.
On the other hand, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition was pleased that the final bill removes all remaining obstacles to farmers and ranchers having the opportunity to enroll this year in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
Once the continuing resolution is signed into law, said Ferd Heofner of the NSAC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture can proceed with enrolling approximately 12 million acres of agricultural land in the program this year.
Once those acres are enrolled it will bring the conservation program to a total of 62 million acres by the end of the year. Hoefner said NSAC has been campaigning for this result since last October when the first government funding bill for fiscal year 2013 accidentally cut off the CSP enrollment for the year.
Once the President signs this funding bill, the USDA will receive the go-ahead from the Office of Management and Budget to begin the CSP enrollment process.
The Department of Agriculture has not yet decided what the deadline for farmer applications will be, but Hoefner said it will likely be sometime during the month of May.
Farmers who are interested in the program can apply at any time and should check with their local Natural Resource Conservation Service office for further information.
The CSP is a national working lands conservation program that rewards farmers and ranchers for the environmental benefits they produce.
The program offers technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers for adopting and maintaining high standards of resource conservation and environmental stewardship.
Assistance is provided for actively managing and improving existing conservation systems and for implementing new conservation activities on land that is in agricultural production.
In the program's first four enrollment years - 2009-12 - the NRCS has enrolled nearly 39,000 farmers and ranchers operating 50 million acres of farm and ranch land that is now under five-year, renewable CSP conservation contracts worth $3.3 billion.
The enrollment process is competitive, based on conservation and environmental benefits.
Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forest lands and agricultural land under tribal jurisdiction.
Applicants must demonstrate they have effective control over these lands to be eligible, either through ownership or reasonably secure leases.
Hoefner said producers wanting more detailed information may want to review NSAC's Farmers' Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program available for free download at http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/.
The Guide provides clear information on the conservation activities that are eligible for CSP payments to improve conservation performance and environmental benefits.
It also includes step-by-step enrollment guidance and key definitions.