The U.S. Senate today passed the 2012 Farm Bill that includes several provisions Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet secured to strengthen conservation and support Colorado farmers, ranchers and sportsmen. The bill consolidates and streamlines programs and would reduce the deficit by $23 billion. It passed with broad, bipartisan support by a vote of 64-35.
"I heard from Coloradans in all corners of the state that the Farm Bill should be less complicated and should contain strong, effective programs that work for farmers and ranchers as well as rural communities and rural resources," said Bennet. "This bipartisan bill cuts the deficit and provides more simplicity and certainty for farmers and ranchers in Colorado. It also ensures that landowners and producers can preserve the integrity of their farm and ranchland for future generations."
Bennet, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, helped craft the bill with input he received from dozens of Farm Bill listening sessions he held across Colorado. Bennet secured several provisions to improve agriculture and conservation programs important to Colorado's rural communities, including measures to simplify and enhance conservation easement agreements by consolidating the number of programs and adding flexibility that will allow more landowners and producers to enter into easements. Bennet further strengthened conservation easements with an amendment that clarifies the law within the newly consolidated Agricultural Lands Easement program to ensure that farmers and ranchers have more incentives and opportunities to enter into an easement agreement. The amendment ensures that resources for conservation easements will target areas with a high concentration of farmland instead of only areas where farmland is contiguous.
Conservation easements are voluntary agreements that allow landowners to limit development on their property while retaining ownership. The easements are designed to protect land in its undeveloped state and to preserve agricultural heritage and wildlife habitats for future generations.
Lynne Sherrod, of Collbran, Colorado and the western policy manager for the Land Trust Alliance, "The Farm Bill provides the single largest source of federal resources for private land conservation. Working land easements enable willing landowners to keep their land in production, which in turn provides food and fiber, clean water, wildlife habitat, and maintains our rural heritage -- a good investment for future generations of farmers, ranchers and all Americans. We applaud Senator Bennet for his leadership in helping to secure this important investment for rural economies."
Tim Sullivan, Colorado state director for The Nature Conservancy said, "Senator Bennet has been a leader in promoting Farm Bill conservation programs that recognize the critical role of ranchers, farmers and foresters as stewards of our country's natural resources. These programs play an essential role in conserving America's soil, water and wildlife. We congratulate and applaud Senator Bennet for his tireless efforts and common-sense approach to ensuring that these programs work for landowners, conserve important lands, and promote good stewardship."
Other provisions Bennet fought to secure in the bill include:
A package of Farm Bill energy programs cosponsored by Bennet that includes the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESPA) Act, which Bennet helped introduce last Congress. RESPA would allow the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to authorize low interest loans for rural homeowners and small businesses to do energy efficiency retrofits.
Reauthorization of stewardship contracting authority for the Forest Service, which was included in the Agriculture Committee's initial draft of the bill. Stewardship contracting is 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.
A strengthened federal crop insurance program that improves the way crop insurance functions for producers with consecutive years of losses and expands the kinds of crops that are covered under the program.
Emphasis not only on water quality but also water quantity as a priority for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which administers Farm Bill conservation programs.
A bipartisan provision to allow bowhunters with archery equipment to cross national park lands to access adjacent hunting lands.
Click here and here to learn more about Colorado priorities Bennet secured in the bill, which renews programs that will govern our national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry policy for five years.
"I commend Senator Michael Bennet and his colleagues for creating a Farm Bill that serves the needs of the nation, the hungry, taxpayers, and family farmers and ranchers," said Kent Peppler, president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. "The bill is by no means perfect from any perspective, but agricultural producers were facing chaos without reauthorization."
The bill now awaits action by the House of Representatives. The 2008 Farm Bill provisions expire at the end of September.