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Congress Threatens to Slash Funding for Successful Farm Programs

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Thursday, June 30, 2011   

LANSING, Mich. - Hundreds of Michigan farmers and tens of thousands across the nation may lose incentive to conserve water and soil resources if Congress slashes funding for farm-bill conservation programs again this year.

After cutting a half billion dollars last year, Congress is now looking at slashing another billion dollars from the four programs.

The Conservation Stewardship, Environmental Quality Incentive, Farmland Protection and Wetlands Reserve programs require farmers and landowners to sign a contract pledging use of conservation practices. In exchange, the landowner receives a grant to help him or her follow though with those measures.

The programs help preserve the integrity of land and water resources, says Jim Sluyter, program coordinator for the Michigan Land Use Institute.

"These conservation programs are actually helping farmers develop facilities that protect ground water, that protect the land and that allow them to farm in a much more conservation-minded way. It's not just setting land aside, by any means."

Sluyter says he's concerned that Congress wants to take a billion dollars out of a program that helps thousands of smaller farmers across Michigan and the nation, while making no adjustments to the commodities-subsidy program. The vast majority of subsidy payments go to relatively few large farm operators, he says, while the conservation programs support both large and small landowners.

"Subsidies are paying farmers to grow corn, wheat, soybeans and a few other commodity items. Conservation programs are going to individual growers who are trying to implement conservation systems with limited means in many cases, allowing them to do amazing things that are really important to the local people, to the local environment."

Another part of the proposed agriculture appropriations bill would deny any funding for President Obama's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" Initiative for strengthening local and regional food systems. That doesn't make sense, Sluyter says, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture program isn't specifically funded. He sees it as an attack on new farm and market opportunities, rural job growth and public health.

Congress is considering cuts to many programs in an effort to reduce the budget deficit.


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