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Fight To Pass Farm Bill

Lawmakers have little time left to pass important conservation legislation

By: Steve Rogers, OutdoorChannel.com

There’s a big fight coming on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hunting, fishing and conservation groups just want them to get on with it, already.

The 2012 Farm Bill stalled before reaching the full House floor prior the August recess. That means upon their return, lawmakers will have a very small window – a little more than three weeks – to pass this critical piece of legislation.

“The Farm Bill encompasses everything from food stamps to crop insurance and water quality,” said Bob St. Pierre, vice president of marketing for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “It also includes more than 50 million acres affected by a variety of federal conservation programs.”

Every five years, Congress passes a bundle of legislation commonly called the Farm Bill that sets national agricultural, nutrition, conservation and forestry policy. It is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the U.S. federal government, dealing with all affairs under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Barring an unforeseen extension, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 is slated to replace the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008.

The Senate approved the new bill by a bipartisan 64-35 vote in June, and it also moved quickly through the House Agriculture Committee. However, a tougher road is expected through the full House. Lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 8, meaning there will likely be around  three weeks of messy and intense debate before the 2008 bill expires on Sept. 30.

To illustrate the severity and importance the bill carries, Pheasants Forever sent a release to its members and supporters, encouraging them to contact their Representatives.

“In limbo are programs that greatly benefit wildlife, including an entire suite of Natural Resources Conservation Programs  (long-term easement programs like the Wetlands Reserve Program) and working lands programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program,” Dave Nomsen, vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, said in the release. “The Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program and voluntary access programs for sportsmen – that provide abundant wildlife and hunting access to those lands – also hang in the balance.

“This summer’s disastrous drought has only magnified the need to maintain the Farm Bill’s strong conservation title.”

Ducks Unlimited also got into the act, asking its membership to relay to lawmakers how critical swift passage of the Farm Bill is.

“The conservation title in the Farm Bill has gone through extreme scrutiny,” Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Long said in June after the Senate passed the bill, “and our legislators have made some changes that maintain support for a strong agricultural economy and the conservation of soil, water, wetlands, waterfowl and other wildlife. This bill recognizes the significant value of conservation programs in keeping our citizens on their working farms, ranches and forestlands.”

“Wetlands are critical not only as waterfowl and other wildlife habitat, but also to help improve water quality and reduce flooding for downstream residents,” Paul Schmidt, DU’s chief conservation officer, said in June. “Providing incentives for good conservation practices as part of the crop insurance program is sound public policy and will protect wetlands in vital areas like the Prairie Pothole Region.”

But the clock is ticking. Once the House of Representatives reconvenes and if the bill passes the House, it then must pass through the joint conference committee before it is shipped to the president to be signed before the 2008 bill expires on Sept. 30 – a total of 22 days.

“Obviously, this is going to be a political football during an election year,” St. Pierre said. “But there are repercussions if this is not passed. Crucial programs will screech to a halt or fall into limbo.

“The Farm Bill impacts so many things – the food we eat, the water we drink and these little animals that we love to chase around. It’s very important to get this passed.”

To find your Representative and implore them to pass the Farm Bill, click here.

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