Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, I rise today to speak about the 2013 farm bill that the Senate just passed. I want to congratulate Chairwoman Stabenow and ranking member Cochran for their work and success on this bill. I am proud to support this bill.
Last year, the Senate passed a strong bi-partisan farm bill that I was also happy to support. I greatly appreciate the work that Chairwoman Stabenow and former ranking member Roberts put into last year's bill and their willingness to work with me, and my colleagues from Chesapeake Bay region States to keep the conservation programs in the bill strong and effective for Maryland and other Chesapeake Bay States' farmers.
I was pleased to see the strength of the farm bill's conservation programs, namely the Regional Conservation Partnership Program retained, and in some respects improved, in the bill that the Agriculture Committee reported in May. I greatly appreciate that through floor consideration of the bill the conservation programs remained largely unchanged. During last year's consideration of this bill my Chesapeake Bay State colleagues and I, in working with Senators Stabenow and Roberts, put a great deal of work into improving the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and I appreciate that all of our work from last year remains intact in this year's Senate farm bill.
I have spoken with my State's soil conservation district managers about the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program that is coming and they are excited and ready to make sure that it works well in Maryland. I look forward to talking with more farmers and other stakeholders about the importance of this new program and will encourage their participation.
Farming in Maryland is extremely challenging. Pressure from developers is compounded by the water quality concerns that persist in the bay and its tributaries. The facts of the matter are that the bay is polluted and it is everyone in the watershed's responsibility to help clean it up.
The Chesapeake Bay is the world's largest most productive estuary. It is a national treasure that has an economic value over $1 trillion. I firmly believe that it is in the Nation's interest to protect this resource. It is in the interest and purview of the Federal government to coordinate the efforts of the six States and the District of Columbia. Because protecting this national treasure is an initiative in the Federal Government's interest I have made providing farmers financial resources to reduce pollution from their farms from polluting the bay a priority issue of mine in each farm bill I have worked on in the Senate.
Because water quality concerns in the bay watershed are so high, Maryland farms must meet extremely standards of operation to prevent sediment and nutrient loss.
I am proud to have worked with the chairman and ranking member to develop the programs in this bill that maintain the traditions of providing farmers with financial resources to mitigate nutrient and sediment loss from their farms.
Perhaps, what is even more important than the specific financial resources this bill provides farmers to implement conservation activities on their farms is reestablishing the requirement that farms must protect highly erodible lands and wetlands in order to qualify for crop insurance premium assistance. This was an issue that I was proud to help champion last year and that ultimately my Republican friend, the Senior Senator from Georgia, was able to win a floor vote to require any producer seeking crop insurance premium assistance to also meet a basic set of conservation compliance criteria established under the Sodbuster and Swampbuster programs.
The concept behind the conservation compliance programs is simple: The expenditure of Federal taxpayer dollars in support of farming operations cannot support farming practices that result in drainage of wetlands or farming of highly erodible lands. These conservation compliance requirements have long been accepted and applied to broadly to a variety of other longstanding farmer financial safety net programs. In fact, up until the 1996 farm bill these conservation compliance programs also applied to Federal crop insurance premium assistance programs.
These minimum qualifications have been a success in ensuring that Federal taxpayer dollars are not supporting farming practices that lead to costly natural resource degradation. In Maryland, however, these practices are common place not just because our farmers want to be good stewards of the bay but because the State requires farmers to manage for wetland and soil loss on their farms.
While I am proud of my Maryland farmers for their conservation work, they are punished in the marketplace for their good stewardship where they compete with producers whose production costs are lower because their operations are located in States that do not require mitigating the impacts of their operations on the natural environment.
Because the 2013 farm bill aims to move farmers out of direct payment programs and into expanded Crop Insurance Premium Assistance programs, reestablishing conservation compliance eligibility requirements for the Crop Insurance Program helps level the competitive playing field for Maryland farmers and other State's agricultural sectors that are doing what is right to protect the environment.
While mine and Senator Chambliss's efforts last year were met with significant challenges last year, a series of discussions between our Nation's leading agricultural interests groups, like the American Farm Bureau, and our Nation's top wildlife and conservation organizations resulted in a mutually agreed proposal to re-link conservation compliance requirements to the crop insurance premium assistance program.
The Federal safety the farm bill provides for both farmers growing our Nation's food and low income families who have difficulty putting food on the table continues on in this bill but with needed reforms. I am proud to support this bill and congratulate the chair and ranking member.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT