January 2, 2013
Unfortunately, Congress was unable to pass comprehensive, 5-year Farm Bill legislation before the end of the 112th Congress, meaning none of the policy changes and improvements we fought to include in both the House and Senate Farm Bill proposals were enacted. The fiscal cliff legislation, passed by the House and Senate yesterday, included an extension of current Farm Bill provisions.
What does this really mean for forest owners and the conservation tools they depend on to keep their woodlands healthy? As you may remember, the 2008 Farm Bill expired on September 30th, meaning several important Farm Bill conservation and energy programs expired without budget baselines.
A few of the 37 programs that expired on September 30th, 2011:
- Wetlands Reserve Program
- Grassland Reserve Program
- Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program
- Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program
- Healthy Forests Reserve Program
- Biobased Markets Program
- Rural Energy for American Program
- Biomass Research and Development
- Biomass Crop Assistance Program
Fortunately, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program were authorized through 2014 in a 2012 continuing resolution, and were therefore not susceptible to expiration on September 30th. That being said, the money appropriated in the CR does set limits on program funding.
Fortunately, the programs that expired on September 30th (listed above) were extended, along with all the other 2008 Farm Bill programs, with the fiscal cliff legislation. WRP can now accept new acreage enrollments. On the other hand, even though the energy programs were extended, they were not given mandatory funding and are subject to the federal budget process—meaning their future is largely uncertain.
In addition, the Conservation Reserve Program and Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative did not have legal authority to spend available funds following expiration, meaning they could no longer accept new acres or projects. With the fiscal cliff Farm Bill extension, these programs can continue.
To sum it all up, forest owners can continue to access existing conservation tools, with some program limitations and no improvements or new opportunities. Although the farm bill extension is disappointing, we’re confident we can maintain the improvements included in the 2012 House and Senate proposals in any comprehensive Farm Bill legislation proposed in 2013. As of right now, the House is tentatively scheduled to mark-up Farm Bill legislation on February 27th.