Bennet Secures Key Provisions in Farm Bill Draft to Help Farmers, Ranchers, Rural Coloradans

Bennet-Backed Measures Include Improved Conservation Programs, Crop Insurance, Focus on Water Quantity

Efforts in Response to State-Wide Farm Bill Listening Sessions With Farmers, Ranchers, Rural Coloradans

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet secured several key provisions to help Colorado farmers and ranchers and rural Coloradans in the bipartisan 2012 Farm Bill draft, which was released late last week and is scheduled for debate, called mark up, in the Senate Agriculture Committee tomorrow.

The Bennet-backed measures included in the draft bill aim to improve key programs for Colorado producers, support programs rural Coloradans depend on and help address the most important issues facing Colorado farmers and ranchers.

“I have heard from Coloradans from Wray to Cortez, and from Lamar to Meeker that they need a Farm Bill that works better, addresses the issues that affect them most and builds upon the progress being made in our rural communities,” said Bennet, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. “We’ve begun a bipartisan process in the Senate and I believe we can pass a Farm Bill that saves taxpayer dollars, adds efficiency and provides support and certainty for producers, small business entrepreneurs, land managers, and community food organizations continuing the important work of feeding our country.”

In response to the input he received at more than 20 Farm Bill listening sessions he held across the state, Bennet secured a number of important changes to current agriculture and conservation policies.

Those changes include expanded conservation easement agreements flexibility that will allow voluntary prohibitions on conversion to intensive forms of agriculture as well as development.  Bennet also pushed for the conservation title to focus not only on water quality but also water quantity. As a result, the draft bill now emphasizes water quantity, in addition to water quality, as a priority for the Natural Resources Conservation Service when funding and implementing conservation programs.

The draft bill strengthens the federal crop insurance program by improving the way crop insurance functions for producers with consecutive years of losses and expanding the kinds of crops that are covered under the program. Bennet has repeatedly pushed for strengthening this program in Agriculture Committee hearings because he heard from Coloradans that crop insurance is their top risk-management priority. The federal crop insurance program helps to protect producers against crop yield and revenue losses due to adverse weather events or pests.

The Farm Bill, which is reauthorized every five years, renews the programs that govern our national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry policy. The 2008 Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2012.

The 2012 Farm Bill draft reforms farm policy, consolidates and streamlines programs and would reduce the deficit by $23 billion. The draft bill is scheduled to be marked up in the Senate Agriculture Committee tomorrow.

Last month, Bennet led six members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation in sending a letter to the leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees calling on them to advance and pass a Farm Bill in 2012. Bennet has also been involved in negotiating and drafting the 2012 Farm Bill.

Bennet also recently led a bipartisan letter to Senate Appropriators calling for strong and robust funding for Farm Bill conservation programs.

In addition to these conservation and crop insurance issues, Bennet-backed provisions in the Farm Bill draft also include:

  • Maintaining the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act program within the Farm Bill, allowing western landowners to continue to use Farm Bill tools to lessen salinity loads through the Colorado River Basin.  
  • Reauthorizing stewardship contracting authority for the Forest Service, a critical tool for the Forest Service to implement projects that restore and maintain healthy forest ecosystems, and provide business opportunities and local employment. Colorado currently has more stewardship contracts underway than any other state, with 34 projects totaling almost 12,000 acres. 
  • Advancing responsible federal farm assistance for the producers who need it most by limiting assistance to those with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $900,000 for the large new multi-crop farm program, Agriculture Risk Coverage.
  • Maintaining resources for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP), which provides grants annually to assist state departments of agriculture in enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, nursery crops, potatoes and other vegetables.
  • Maintaining resources for Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG), which may be used for planning activities and for working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products and for farm-based renewable energy. An agricultural product becomes “value-added” when it increases in value due to some attribute attached to it, such as unique growing conditions, including organic, or special processing, such as a tomato made into tomato sauce.
  • Improving the Rural Energy America Program (REAP) by expediting the approval process for smaller REAP projects, which will encourage more communities and business to submit projects, including small projects, and make the process more efficient.
  • Allowing recipients of grants or loans through the Community Facilities Programs to use more of their funding for technical assistance purposes – up to 3 percent. This helps recipients make efficient and effective use of program grants and loans.
  • Establishing a grant program to help qualified organizations develop, implement and sustain veterinary services to address states’ individual needs and shortage situations.
  • Maintaining resources for local extension centers, including the Colorado State University Extension.