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Epressing Disappointment with the Deep Cuts to Conservation in the Agricultural Appropriations Bill

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. KIND. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my disappointment in the deep cuts made to conservation programs in H.R. 2112, the Agricultural Appropriations Bill. I represent one of the most productive farming regions in the country, and these cuts will have lasting consequences in my district. As the father of two young children, I am extremely concerned about passing an undue financial burden on to future generations. It is clear to all that sacrifices must be made, but conservation programs that play a vital role in protecting our Nation's lands and waters must be protected, and should not be disproportionately undermined as they have been through the appropriations process.

Conservation programs have in recent years suffered a number of devastating financial blows, which will profoundly affect the ability of farmers to reach our stewardship goals. The 2008 Farm Bill as well as H.R. 1 in the 112th Congress included drastic cuts to flagship programs like CRP and WRP without proportionate cuts to Title I programs. This effectively puts the interests of large agribusiness in front of nutrition and conservation, rather than realizing the need for equal sacrifice by all stakeholders.

Increases in commodity prices have led to farmers feeling pressure to bring sensitive lands back into production, and that means it's going to affect wildlife habitat, highly erodible land with sediment and nutrient flows flowing off and contaminating our water and drinking supply. We are seeing already that CRP enrollment is dropping because farmers are choosing to take that land out of CRP and putting it back into production.

The real, measurable consequences of these actions will be felt in my district and across the country. Fishing, hunting and other types of outdoor recreation generate millions of jobs, primarily in rural counties. Managing farms, ranches and forest lands to create habitat for wildlife--and protecting farmland from sprawl--is critical to rural economic development based upon hunting and fishing. It is estimated that one-third of America's river miles, 45 percent of America's lakes, and 44 percent of America's bays still fail to meet water quality standards. Conservation programs play an important role in alleviating these problems by reducing soil erosion and bolstering natural water filtration, and are in many ways the last defense against over-exploitation of land and water pollution.

In this bill, the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays growers to farm more sustainably, is slated to be cut by 171 million dollars. This visionary program rewards past stewardship, but also incentivizes improvements that bring about additional environmental benefits. It is a shining example of the kind of programmatic innovation and forward thinking that should be rewarded by Congress, which makes this reduction in funding particularly disappointing.

Funds for The Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) are also being cut. This program has played a critical role in conserving our Nation's wetlands, and the environmental and economic benefits associated with them. The United States has already lost over half its native wetlands, and continues to lose these crucial habitats at an alarming rate. WRP provides an avenue for farmers to take wetlands, which are normally considered underproductive for farming anyway, out of production so that they may continue to provide habitat and ecosystem services.

Finally, the cuts to conservation programs will be damaging to agriculture and food security. Cutting funds to conservation will put millions of acres of farmland at risk to unplanned development.

I have made conserving our natural heritage one of the hallmarks of my work in Congress, and I cannot stand by and watch these cuts without making my voice heard. While I am concerned about passing on a financial burden to my children, I am also concerned about passing on an environmental burden. Cutting these programs will only cause problems for future generations.

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