Republican legislators, who promised farmers less regulation in exchange for fewer federal subsidies, are preparing to do both.
House Republicans plan to rewrite parts of the nation’s farm bill, which links billions of dollars in farm payments to protecting millions of acres from erosion.
Republicans propose putting farmers in charge of certifying that they are using conservation measures to reduce erosion, and ending a requirement that the U.S.. Department of Agriculture inspect 5 percent of participating fields each year. Penalties for failing to meet the conservation guidelines also would be reduced.
Many Inland Northwest wheat farmers consider the current “conservation compliance” component of the farm program the most contentious part of the nation’s farm bill. The program, however, has dramatically increased the use of divided slopes, grass waterways, notill farming and other measures that reduce erosion on the steep slopes of the Palouse.
Supporters contend the rewriting of the farm bill will guard against excessive regulation of farmers.
But environmentalists call the effort an attempt to break the 10-year coupling of government subsidies with safeguards against a major source of water pollution and soil loss.
“The rationale was, if the government is going to give money to the farmers, then it should get something back,” said Maureen Kuwano Hinkle, farm policy specialist with the National Audubon Society. If the new proposal is passed, “They’re giving money to the farmers and getting nothing back.”
Erosion threatens more than one-third of the nation’s 421 million acres of cropland and the future productivity of farmland. Uncontrolled, runoff could pollute waterways with dirt, pesticides and fertilizer.
The proposal fits with a promise by Rep. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, to reduce government regulation of agriculture in exchange for the $13.4 billion in subsidy cuts needed to balance the budget.