U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), along with Chesapeake Bay Watershed colleagues Senators Barbara A. Mikulski (also D-MD), Tom Carper and Chris Coons (Both D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mark Warner ( D-VA), and Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (Both D-NY), wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White urging them to support Chesapeake Bay watershed farmers during the interim period since the lapse of the Farm Bill authorization. Because the House of Representatives allowed the Farm Bill authorization to expire without even passing a short-term extension, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative's (CBWI) authorization also expired preventing the NRCS from entering into new CBWI contracts. In August, the Chesapeake Bay watershed senators wrote to the House Leadership urging them to pass the Senate version of the Farm Bill, including new funding to support the health of the Bay.
"The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative has provided farmers in our states with essential resources they need to meet the conservation challenges of farming in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Our farmers have come to rely on this important program, so much so, the sudden expiration of the CBWI may not only come as a surprise, but also may dramatically impact many of our farmers' bottom line," the Senators wrote in their letter to Secretary Vilsack and Chief White. "We ask that field staff be prepared to help the Chesapeake Bay region's agricultural communities navigate the consequences of this expiration."
In June, the U.S. Senate overcame its partisan differences to pass a new Farm Bill. The Agricultural Reform, Food and Jobs Act provides more effective agricultural support programs for family farmers while reducing the budget deficit by more than $23 billion over the next five years. It preserved funding for conservation efforts of farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by consolidating the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative Program with a few other similar programs into a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The structure of the RCPP emphasizes cooperation between producers and regional stakeholders to work together to improve the effectiveness of agricultural conservation activities by leveraging non-government funds in support of conservation projects.
Identified as a National Treasure by President Obama and his predecessors, the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, with a length of 200 miles and 11,684 miles of tidal shoreline, more than the entire U.S. West Coast. About 100,000 streams and rivers thread through the Chesapeake's 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to almost 17 million people across Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Twenty-five percent of lands within the watershed are used for agricultural purposes. The economic value of the Bay is estimated to be more than $1 trillion, but that value is dependent on the health of the Bay's waters and fisheries.
Dear Secretary Vilsack and Chief White:
As a result of the House of Representatives' failure to pass the bipartisan Senate reauthorization of the Farm Bill, the current Farm Bill will expire on September 30, 2012. Without an extension of the Farm Bill, our agriculture laws will revert to depression-era agriculture policy, including costly subsidies and price controls, creating harm and uncertainty for many of our farmers. Inaction also means many of the programs our farmers depend on -- like the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative Program (CBWIP) -- will no longer exist and no longer receive funding. As we continue to work with our House colleagues to pass a Farm Bill extension, we ask that you use the resources available to help buffer the loss of those programs that are expiring.
CBWIP provides farmers in our states with essential resources they need to meet the conservation challenges of farming in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Our farmers have come to rely on this important program, so much so, that the sudden expiration of the CBWIP may not only come as a surprise, but also may dramatically impact many of our farmers' bottom lines.
That is why we urge you to fully inform all Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) field staff in the Chesapeake Bay watershed about the implications of the expiration of this program and have them disseminate this information to the agriculture community. Specifically, we ask that field staff be prepared to help the Chesapeake Bay region's agricultural communities navigate the consequences of this expiration including the terms of existing CBWIP contracts, NRCS's ability to write new CBWIP contracts, and other USDA-NRCS conservation resources that are available to farmers in the interim.
Providing timely information on CBWIP and other possible supplemental resources will be incredibly important for our farmers' planning purposes. Requiring NRCS field staff to reach out to affected farmers during this time of uncertainty, will also help maintain and improve their working relationship with the communities they serve and will demonstrate their commitment and support for our farmers' efforts to conserve natural resources in the Chesapeake Bay region.
We would appreciate being kept informed of USDA-NRCS's actions to disseminate information on the CBWIP and if we can help in any way please contact our offices. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.