US Government will seek over $1 billion to help farmers protect water quality and the environment

The US Government will request nearly $1.3 billion from the 2001 budget for programmes that help farmers protect water quality and the environment and to preserve farmland. The conservation package is part of a larger administration budget proposal to strengthen the farm 'safety net'.

The farm safety net is a package of measures intended to protect US farmers from dropping prices, bad weather and instability in global food markets. The package includes a reduction in crop insurance premiums and measures to ease cash-flow pressures on farmers. The US Government believes the provision of financial assistance to farmers who practice environmentally sound land management will further strengthen the farm safety net.

The centrepiece of the conservation proposal is a $600 million programme, the Conservation Security Programme (CSP), which will provide additional income to farmers who adopt land management practices which curb erosion and reduce pesticide and nutrient runoff.

An additional $125 million will be used to help farmers benefit from the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Conservation Reserve Programme (CRP). The CRP helps farmers establish buffer strips along waterways to improve water quality. The proposal asks Congress to expand CRP so that an additional 4 million acres (1.62 million ha) of farmland – up to a total of 40 million acres (16.2 million ha) – may be enrolled in the programme.

An additional $550 million will be used to strengthen several other USDA programmes to assist farmers with conservation and environmental efforts. These programmes include the Environmental Quality Incentives Programme (EQIP), Wetlands Reserve Programme (WRP) and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Programme (WHIP). This funding will be used to expand technical assistance for farmers and ranchers for conservation efforts and expand the Farmland Protection Programme (FPP).

US river conservation group, American Rivers, has praised the Government’s proposal. “The proposal addresses the single greatest threat to rivers in the heartland and across the nation – polluted runoff from farms and city streets,” said Jeff Stein, Mississippi River Regional Representative for American Rivers in a statement. “The costs of doing nothing are much greater than $1.3 billion.”

Sediment and nutrients washed off farmland threatens drinking water supplies, increases the cost of dredging the navigation channels and reduces habitat for river wildlife. One-fourth of applied fertiliser washes off farm fields costing farmers billions of dollars annually and increasing water treatment costs. “Farmers are willing to do their part, but we need to recognise the economic risks they take when they adopt new land use practices,” Stein said. “Vice President Gore’s proposal will give farmers the tools and incentives they need to be better stewards.”

Through the USDA programmes supported by the initiative, participants can receive cost-share assistance, technical assistance, and in many cases, annual payments, for high-priority conservation activities, including wetlands restoration, farmland protection, and comprehensive nutrient management.

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