By Matt Perdue, NFU Government Relations Representative
The Farm Bill Conference Committee remains squarely focused on getting a bill passed before the end of the calendar year. Bringing together the significant differences between the House and Senate bills was an already difficult task that received an extra layer of pressure Sunday night when the 2014 Farm Bill expired. National Farmers Union is optimistic a new Farm Bill will be passed shortly after the election, but the lapse will have notable, short-term impacts on several programs, including three key conservation programs.
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
The 2014 Farm Bill decreased maximum acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) from 27.5 million in 2014 to 24 million in 2018. An increase in acreage is expected in the final farm bill, as both the House and Senate have responded to growing demand for CRP contracts. However, until a new farm bill is in place, CRP enrollments are in a holding pattern. Until the Farm Service Agency (FSA) granted authority to enroll CRP acreage for 2019, the agency will not approve new contracts or process offers for enrollment. Contracts approved prior to September 28 will continue to pay annual rental, cost-share, and incentive payments.
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
The ultimate fate of CSP has been one of the most contentious issues for the Conference Committee. The House bill eliminates the program, rolling some of its funds into an expanded EQIP. On the other hand, the Senate makes several improvements to CSP and maintains the program with a funding cut of about five percent. As that debate continues, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has suspended enrollment for the program, as its authorization also expired on September 30. As is the case with CRP, existing CSP contracts will continue to provide stewardship payments for contracts approved prior to September 28.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
Unlike CSP and CRP, EQIP was funded through 2019 by the budget agreement that was passed in March. However, farm bill changes around funding levels, new funding reserves, and programmatic reforms could still impact the program in 2019. Citing that uncertainty, NRCS has restricted new enrollments. NRCS will continue to enroll new EQIP contracts for the first quarter of FY 2019 but will limit those enrollments to program and landscape initiatives, and special funding pools.
With campaign season in full swing, members of the House have returned to their home districts and Senators will soon follow. The “lame duck” session between Election Day and the end of the year is now the best chance for getting a Farm Bill done. In the meantime, check with your local FSA or NRCS office about your options for enrolling in conservation programs for 2019.
Congress needs to hear from their constituents that the Farm Bill is important to them. Please consider taking action by contacting members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee today. Visit 2018FarmBill.org to learn more.
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