The US Farm Bill – Current Status & Potential Impact on Conservation Properties

Conservation Properties | Red Hill RanchRanch broker Ed Roberson offers a brief overview of the current status of the Farm Bill and its effect on conservation properties in this blog entry.  In future posts, we will be addressing some of the more detailed aspects of the bill such as habitat enhancements, range improvements, etc.

If you’ve been following the recent news regarding the federal budget negotiations, the fiscal cliff, and their effects on conservation properties for sale, you’ve most likely heard a good bit of chatter about the Farm Bill.  On a most basic level, the Farm Bill is the far-reaching policy tool of the US government that directs federal spending in all aspects of agriculture in the United States.  The 2008 Farm Bill approved over $300 billion in spending on everything from agricultural subsidies to crop insurance, from food stamps to land conservation.

Farm Bill History – Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Farm Bill in 1933, during the depths of the Great Depression, as a tool to stimulate the commodity markets.  The original version of the Farm Bill paid farmers to cease production of seven specific commodity crops with the goal of decreasing the supply, increasing the demand, and ultimately raising commodity prices.  (To learn more about the challenges faced by farmers and ranchers during this time period, I highly recommend The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan – an informative and compelling narrative of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.)  Since that time, the Farm Bill has morphed into a much broader policy tool, affecting almost every aspect of agriculture in the United States.

Current Farm Bill Battles – The Farm Bill is generally renegotiated and renewed approximately every five years, and a new bill was due to be passed in the fall of 2012.  This past summer, Congress began to move forward with a draft version of the bill.  Amazingly, the bill was viewed as a bipartisan effort, and was applauded by leaders on both sides of the aisle.  From a land conservation perspective, all of the major mainstream conservation organizations publicly endorsed the bill and were pleased (and somewhat surprised) that the bill included increased federal funding for purchasing conservation easements on agricultural land.

In July, the bill passed the Senate, was then presented to the House Agricultural Committee, and was easily approved with a vote of 35-11.  At this point, it seemed that the bill was poised to pass the House of Representatives without much of a problem…  And that’s when the wheels fell off!

Thanks to partisan posturing due in part to the impending fiscal cliff debates, the bill was never presented to the House for a vote.  It sat in the black hole of congressional bureaucracy through the summer and fall, even as the 2008 Farm Bill officially expired.  Eventually, on January 1st, 2013, Congress passed an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, which was widely viewed as a lame example of “kicking the can down the road.”

So where do things stand now?  It is uncertain.  The current extension will be in effect until September of 2013, at which point it will expire.  Between now and then, Congress will need to renegotiate the bill and hopefully pass a version that receives the same level of bipartisan support as last summer’s version.  From a land conservation perspective, this current extension is not at all favorable – it has resulted in losing over $500 million in baseline funding for conservation easements over the next 10 years.

However, as we try to look on the bright side, the upcoming negotiations of this new Farm Bill present an excellent opportunity for Congress to draft and pass a Farm Bill that will be equally favorable as last year’s unpassed version.  Hopefully, with the Fiscal Cliff fights and the Presidential election behind us, 2013 will be a year that Congress can work together to create impactful, meaningful, and viable policies for agriculture and conservation.

For more information and updates on Farm Bill Negotiations, check out the following links:

Be sure to keep checking the Mirr Ranch Group blog for more updates on the Farm Bill and its impact on conservation properties.

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