State of the Union 2000

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release January 7, 2000

VICE PRESIDENT GORE ANNOUNCES ADMINISTRATION WILL SEEK
OVER $1 BILLION TO HELP FARMERS
PROTECT WATER QUALITY, ENVIRONMENT

Washington, DC -- Vice President Al Gore announced today that the Administration will seek nearly $1.3 billion in the FY 2001 budget for conservation programs that help family farmers take steps to protect water quality and the environment and to preserve farmland. This conservation package is part of a larger Administration budget proposal to strengthen the farm safety net.

"Farmers are among the most important stewards of our land and water," Vice President Gore said. "Despite the accomplishments made in recent years in stopping soil erosion and protecting water quality, agriculture's environmental challenges are multiplying. The initiatives that I am announcing today will provide needed financial support to our family farmers as well as tremendous environmental benefits for the American people."

The Vice President also praised Senator Harkin and Representative Boswell for their involvement in helping to develop this policy.

"Senator Harkin, a long time and well known friend of agriculture was particularly instrumental in shaping this program to best help the interests of America's working farmers," said Vice President Gore.

The centerpiece of the proposal is a new $600 million program providing additional income to family farmers who voluntarily adopt comprehensive plans to curb erosion and protect water supplies from pesticide and nutrient runoff.

An additional $125 million will be used to provide opportunities for farmers to benefit through USDA's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for farmers to establish buffer strips along waterways to improve water quality. The proposal also asks Congress to expand CRP so that an additional 4 million acres of farmland (for a total of 40 million acres) may be enrolled in the program.

An additional $550 million will be used to strengthen several other USDA programs to assist farmers with conservation and environmental efforts. These programs include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. This funding also will be used to expand technical assistance for farmers and ranchers for conservation efforts and expand the Farmland Protection Program.

Conservation Initiatives in the 2001 Farm Safety Net Proposal

Strengthening the Farm Safety Net Through Conservation: The Administration believes a crucial part of the farm safety net that will yield benefits to all Americans is providing assistance to farmers and ranchers who practice environmentally sound land management. This conservation initiative will help farmers and ranchers continue to protect and enhance the environment, while increasing farm family income. Through these USDA programs, participants can receive cost-share assistance, technical assistance, and in many cases, annual payments, for high-priority conservation activities, including wetlands restoration, farmland protection, and comprehensive nutrient management. The proposal, totaling nearly $1.3 billion in FY 2001 mandatory funding, would:

Fund a new Conservation Security Program at $600 million in FY 2001 and 2002;
Increase the Environmental Quality Incentives Program by $125 million per year;
Increase the Wetlands Reserve Program to enroll 250,000 acres per year;
Increase the Conservation Reserve Program to 40 million cumulative acres;
Increase bonuses for "Continuous sign-ups" under the Conservation Reserve Program by $100 to $125 million per year, FY 2000 to 2002;
Increase the Farmland Protection Program to $65 million per year;
Increase the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program to $50 million per year;
Provide the necessary USDA technical assistance to implement these programs.

Conservation Security Program
The new Conservation Security Program (as proposed by Senator Harkin) would provide annual payments to farmers and ranchers who implement various conservation practices. Payment levels would be based on the range and comprehensiveness of the practices implemented. Eligible practices would include comprehensive nutrient management, prescribed grazing, and partial field conservation practices such as grassed waterways and windbreaks. The program would be funded through the Initiative at $600 million in each of FY 2001 and 2002. (Legislation required.)

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
The EQIP, a key component of the President's Clean Water Action Plan, provides financial, technical, and educational assistance to farmers and ranchers who wish to implement conservation practices on land currently in production. By statute, half of the program funds must be used to address livestock-related concerns. Eligible practices include animal waste management, integrated pest management, habitat restoration, and livestock water development. Program contracts are for 5 to 10 years. The annual authorized level for this program is $200 million (although Congress limited it to $174 million in FY 2000), and the Initiative would increase the annual level to $325 million. (Legislation required.)

Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)
The WRP offers technical and financial assistance to farmers who wish to restore and protect agricultural wetlands. USDA provides up to 100 percent of the wetland restoration costs and up to 100 percent of the fair market agricultural value of the land in return for permanent or 30-year easements or wetlands restoration cost-share agreements.

The 1996 Farm Bill authorized the WRP to enroll 975,000 cumulative acres. After FY 2000, there will be only 40,000 acres left to enroll under the cap. The Initiative would remove the acreage cap and enroll an additional 210,000 acres in FY 2001, for a total of 250,000 acres, and an additional 250,000 acres in each subsequent year. (Legislation required.)

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
The CRP provides farmers with technical and financial assistance, including annual rental payments, in exchange for removing environmentally sensitive land from production and implementing conservation practices such as wildlife habitat restoration and field windbreaks. The program's 10-15 year contracts are awarded through a competitive bid process in which USDA selects land for enrollment that offers the most environmental benefit. The Administration's farm safety net proposal increases the CRP cap set by the 1996 Farm Bill by 3.6 million acres to 40 million acres, allowing more than twice as many acres to sign up in FY 2001 as would be allowed under current law. (Legislation required.)

Conservation Reserve Program "Continuous Sign-up" Bonuses The Administration also plans to offer bonuses totaling up to $100 million in FY 2000 and up to $125 million in fiscal years 2001-2002 to producers who enroll land in CRP through the "continuous signup." The CRP continuous sign-up allows producers to enroll certain high priority practices such as grassed waterways, filter strips, and riparian buffers at any time during the year. These bonuses will help offset much of the expense of installing costly continuous signup practices, and encourage enrollment of high environmental-value acreage. (No congressional action required.)

Farmland Protection Program (FPP)
The FPP, part of the President's Lands Legacy Initiative, provides matching funds (up to 50 percent of the fair-market farmland value) to state, local, and Tribal governments to permanently protect farmland threatened by development from urban and suburban "sprawl", through the purchase of easements that preserve the land for farm use. Applications are prioritized based on criteria such as quality of the land (including environmental, historical, and scenic qualities), likelihood of development, and availability of nonfederal matching funds. Funding for this program provided by the 1996 Farm Bill has been exhausted, and the Initiative would provide $65 million per year for it. (Legislation required.)

Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP)
For farmers, ranchers, and other landowners who wish to implement wildlife habitat practices, WHIP offers cost-share assistance for up to 75 percent of the habitat restoration expenses and technical assistance. Eligible practices include native grass restoration, riparian area restoration, and aquatic habitat establishment. Contracts are generally for 5-10 years. Funding for this program provided by the 1996 Farm Bill has been exhausted, and the Initiative would provide $50 million per year for it. (Legislation required.)

Technical Assistance

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will provide additional technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to carry out these enhanced programs. NRCS technical expertise will ensure the practices associated with the programs are implemented successfully and maximize environmental benefits. (Legislation required.)

This historic conservation Initiative will be financed within the context of the FY 2001 balanced budget, which protects Social Security, that the President will submit to Congress on February 7, 2000.



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