Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and a group of senators representing states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed 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.
After the Farm Bill authorization expired due to the House of Representatives failure to reauthorize the bill, 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 farmers in the region.
"Farmers along the Chesapeake Bay watershed shouldn't have to suffer because some in Congress are blocking progress on the Farm Bill. The Agriculture Department should provide Pennsylvania's farmers with the resources they need to get through this difficult time." Casey said. "The Farm Bill is essential to Pennsylvania's agriculture sector. Republicans and Democrats in the House should immediately come together and pass a bipartisan Farm Bill as the Senate has already done."
Senator Casey was joined by Senators Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Mark Warner (D-VA), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), in sending the letter.
In June, the U.S. Senate passed the Agricultural Reform, Food and Jobs Act, which 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 similar programs into a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The structure of the RCPP emphasizes cooperation between producers and regional stakeholders to improve the effectiveness of agricultural conservation activities by leveraging non-government funds in support of conservation projects.
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.
The full text of the letter to Secretary Vilsack and NRSC Chief Dave White can be seen below:
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
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 this fiscal year. 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.
The 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, the sudden expiration of the CBWIP may not only come as a surprise, but also may dramatically impact many of our farmers' bottom line.
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 are available to farmers in the interim.
Providing timely information on the CBWIP and other possible supplemental resources will be incredibly important for our farmers' planning purposes. Requiring NRCS field staff to reach out to affect 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.