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This year’s farm bill was a long, long time coming, but local producers finally have some legislation to scrunitize.
Phil, left, and Seth Hassinger talk about some of the restoration work they’ve accomplished on their farm off Booth Lane. The Hassingers — Phil and Trudy, Seth and Melinda — were given the 2007 Union County Conservation Farm of the Year award for efforts such as tending a riparian buffer along Catherine Creek and including fish passages in their irrigation system. Local Eagle Scout Clancy Strand helped erect an American kestrel nest box to control rodents. - The Observer/ETHAN SCHOWALTER-HAY
The previous version, instituted in 2002, expired in September of last year.
The new bill, finally passed on June 18, endured two vetoes from President Bush — a clerical error forced Congress to pass a second, updated version — both of which were overriden by votes in the House and Senate.
Bush had criticized the act throughout its lifespan. In a statement released with his first veto, he said, “Farm income is expected to exceed the 10-year average by 50 percent this year, yet Congress’ bill asks American taxpayers to subsidize the incomes of married farmers who earn $1.5 million per year.
“I believe doing so at a time of record farm income is irresponsible and jeopardizes America’s support for necessary farm programs.”
The battle-hardened act, allocating some $288 billion, sets agricultural policy for five years. About two-thirds of the funding is directed toward nutrition policy, with other major allocations for farm subsidies and conservation.
“The farm bill is one of those things that’s a whole lot easier to talk about in the past than in the present,” said John Williams of Wallowa County Extension. “Any time we pass a new farm bill, we don’t really know the effects for awhile.”
But he added, “It does open up and allow the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to go ahead with the programs they’ve been doing for years.”
Some of these are already being implemented.
“Within weeks of its becoming law, we began to put a farm bill into the field and out into the country,” Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said in a press release on Wednesday.
Jennifer Isley, director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency office in Union County, noted that signup had begun in the 2008 Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment Program.
“It’s totally out of sequence for when (producers) would normally do it,” she said, thanks to the delay on the bill’s passage.
Producers can file their DCP contracts at their local FSA office.
Those with Level 2 authorization within the USDA electronic database may complete the forms online. To become authorized, producers must register at www.eauth.egov.usda.gov and then verify their identity at an FSA office.
Completed contracts must be filed by Sept. 30.
“Offices are kind of under the gun because we have to get people signed up by that deadline,” said Bill Williams, director of Wallowa County’s FSA office.
The 2008 farm bill extends the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides incentives and support for farmers and ranchers undertaking land management that promotes soil, water and wildlife conservation.
Participants in CRP with a haying/grazing component in their conservation plan of operations may be able eligible to hay or graze part of their enrolled fields after July 15, the end of the primary nesting period for grassland birds.
Those permitted to may hay 50 percent or graze 75 percent of each field.
Individuals who wish to add critical haying/grazing to their plan of operations should visit their FSA office to find out the necessary criteria. A fee of $75 per contract is required.
Both Isley and Williams said most programs in 2008 would stay essentially the same, but some changes will be in store down the road. Right now, though, they’re concentrating on the tasks at hand.
With DCP signups, crop acreage reports, CRP haying/grazing procedures and other paperwork to be done, Williams said producers should call their local office and make appointments, if they haven’t already.
Some $30 billion in the new bill is allocated for conservation programs. Mike Burton of the USDA-NRCS office in La Grande said this has been the trend in recent legislation.
“It is a strong conservation focus, and that has been the march of the ... agricultural component of the farm bill for years and years,” he said.
Funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, has been expanded and includes more applications for forest lands.
“We have a lot of urban-rural interface that could benefit from forest conservation programs,” Burton said.
More money has also been funneled to other conservation initiatives like the Grassland Reserve Program, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.
Burton said there are some looming dates for interested parties to keep track of. EQIP project applications must be submitted by Aug. 15 to be considered for the current funding cycle. See www.or.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/eqip/index.html for more information.
On July 14, a work group discussion on implementing and prioritizing Union County conservation programs initiated by the farm bill will be held in the USDA Conference Room, 1901 Adams Avenue, at 9 a.m. The public is encouraged to attend and participate.
NRCS provides technical assistance to landowners to direct them to funding available through programs like those mentioned above. Interested parties should contact their local NRCS office.
“In a sense, they’re de-emphasizing corn-based ethanol and increasing emphasis on cellulosic-based ethanol and biofuels, and that should be good for Northeast Oregon,” he said.
Cellulosic biofuels are those derived from wood, grasses and other non-edible parts of plants. The bill sets a producer credit at $1.01 per gallon for fuel produced and used domestically.
Overall, Sorte said the farm bill draws valuable attention to the agricultural industry, even when the proportion of those drawing their primary income from it decreases.
“It speaks well to what farmers and ranchers do.”