The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, aka the “2008 farm bill,” is the most recent omnibus Farm Bill. It was enacted into law on June 18, 2008, and succeeded the 2002 farm bill. This legislation expires this year and debate continues over its replacement, the 2012 Farm Bill.
The farm bill governs federal farm and food policy, covering a wide range of programs and provisions, and, as noted above, undergoes review and renewal roughly every five years. The 2008 bill contains 15 titles encompassing commodity price and income supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, energy, and foreign and domestic food programs such as food stamps and other nutrition programs, among other programs. The 2008 bill came with a price tag of about $57 billion per year, or $284 billion over five years.
WASHINGTON, D.C.- Rural Hoisington farmer Dean Stoskopf had the opportunity to provide input to federal lawmakers on what the 2012 Farm Bill should look like. He testified earlier this week before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on the hotly debated legislation.
Stoskopf spoke along side Administrator Bruce Nelson of the Farm Service Agency, Chief David White of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other ag producers.
The current farm bill – the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 – expires this year, but Stoskopf isn’t confident new legislation will be passed to replace it. “Right now in D.C. not much of anything is going to get accomplished because of political bickering in both parties.”
The Senate Ag Committee has a goal of passing a bill by Memorial day. But, with this being an election year, Stoskopf doubts that goal will be met.
In his testimony, Stoskopf offered three guidelines that he believes will allow conservation programs to continue the legacy of success they have built. Conservation efforts make up just one of 15 titles that encompass the farm bill. Among the others are trade, bioenergy, nutrition and livestock.
Stoskopf’s first guideline requires keeping programs simple. He suggested combining existing programs into three core programs; working lands, land retirement and land easement programs. “Reducing complexity should reduce the overhead associated with administering dozens of different programs and allow program dollars to reach their intended purpose,” he told members of the Committee.
The second guideline, keeping programs local, suggests that every region of the country has different conservation needs and require locally tailored solutions. Farmers working with their local USDA NRCS staff are best able to develop solutions that will work for their area.
“Working land programs should be administered as locally as possible, and no higher than the state level,” Stoskopf said. “Local landowners, tenants and advisors have a much better understanding of the needs in their area, as well as the solutions that will work.”
The third and final guideline of Stoskopf’s proposed solution involves keeping the staff of the USDA NRCS as friends and advisors to farmers, not enforcement agents for the federal government. “The NRCS staff and the staff of the local Conservation District have always been technical consultants and advisors, working cooperatively with local farmers to find solutions and advance conservation.”
“As farmers, we trust those advisors to help us improve the soil and water quality on our farms, which has always been the goal of conservation programs,” Stoskopf said. “If the NRCS becomes an enforcement agency, that trust will be lost, along with the cooperation.”
Now, lawmakers only have two options. First, they can extend the current Farm Bill for a year. Second, they can pass a new one.
However, if neither happens, the outcome would be unpleasant for farmers, Stoskopf said. This would trigger reverting back to the original farm legislation dating back to the 1940s. “Nobody wants that.”
As for his appearance in Washington, “it was a good opportunity,” he said.
He spent 25 years working with Sen. Pat Roberts, who sits on the Senate Ag Committee. The Kansas Republican’s office called and asked if he’d testify.
Conservation has been a significant priority on the Stoskopf family farm since the Dust Bowl, he said. In the 1930s, Stoskopf’s parents were married and planted shelterbelts and windbreaks and watered their trees using horses and wagons. In the 1950s, they received the Kansas Bankers County Conservation Award for their soil and water conservation efforts. To bring conservation full circle, Stoskopf and his wife, Mary Anne, were recognized for their own conservation efforts with the same Bankers Conservation award in 1996.