I don’t understand the massive chunk of legislation known as the Farm Bill. What I do know is the elementary school definition: legislation that sets government farm and food policy. Even simpler: if you eat, the Farm Bill affects you.
I also don’t fully understand how the Farm Bill becomes, well, the Farm Bill. I know that lots of politicians have their hands in it, and that lots of special interest groups are vying for a piece of the pie.
The 2012 Farm Bill is currently on the table, and there’s already considerable (and ongoing) controversy about it. Just try reading through some of the proposals and you’ll be hit with a stream of acronyms that any government agency would be proud of.
Since I can’t pretend to even start to understand the process or most of the programs, so I’ll stick with the part I’m somewhat familiar with – conservation programs.
Conservation programs aren’t just for farmers. They benefit everyone by protecting natural resources.
A program called CRP (yay! an acronym!!) or Conservation Reserve Program, protects topsoil from erosion; which in turn protects groundwater and helps improve the health of lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. We all win.
The CBWI (another!!), or Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, provides technical assistance and funding to help farmers restore wetlands, manage manure and install streambank fencing (which keeps livestock out of streams, which means cleaner water for everyone). Another win.
The FRPP (like that one?), or Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, provides matching funds for the purchase of development rights to keep productive land in agricultural use. Yet another win.
WHIP (I promise, this is the last acronym), stands for Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program; a voluntary program for landowners who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat on agricultural land, non-industrial private forest land, and Indian land. Goals for WHIP include the restoration of declining fish/wildlife habitat, reduce the impact of invasive species on fish and wildlife habitat, and protect/restore migration and movement corridors for wildlife. A win for wildlife and a win for those who think wildlife are worth preserving.
Whew. That’s enough acronyms. Or I could list all the conservation programs in the last Farm Bill (2008); by acronym, of course.
- Conservation of Private Grazing Land Program
Oops. No acronym for the last one, a program that provides technical assistance for protecting soil from erosive wind and water, initiating energy-efficient means to produce food and fiber, using plants to sequester greenhouse gases and to increase SOM (sorry…soil organic matter), and using grazing land as a source of biomass energy and raw materials for industrial products. Sounds like another win-win.
Money for these programs and all of the other programs administered by various titles of the Farm Bill is up for grabs. Farmers want to do whatever they can to keep water clean, but they can’t easily afford the newest technology in manure storage. Farmers want to preserve open space, but are often tempted to sell when bills mount and developers appear with money in hand. Farmers really, really want to do whatever they can to protect the soil, preserve land, and maintain habit for wildlife – wildlife that enhances our environment and our lives in more ways than we can ever imagine.