By Sean McMahon
As Congress returns to work this week, it is imperative that the House of Representatives passes a farm bill with strong conservation programs before the current legislation expires at the end of this month.
The farm bill’s conservation programs are critical to helping America’s farmers meet the growing domestic and global demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel in an increasingly sustainable manner. Here in Iowa and throughout much of the Mississippi River basin, many of the conservation programs in the farm bill — which provides the single biggest source of funding for conservation in America — are aimed at helping farmers conserve valuable soil and fertilizers, which also helps improve our water quality and makes farms more resilient against seasonal variability such as our current drought.
The entire Senate passed the farm bill on June 21, and the House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the legislation on July 12, each with strong bipartisan majorities. Unfortunately Speaker John Boehner and the House majority leadership have yet to schedule time on the House floor to vote on the bill, although only a few precious days remain on the legislative calendar before Congress adjourns at the end of the month for the fall election season, and the existing farm bill expires.
The Nature Conservancy recently joined the Farm Bill Now Coalition, which consists of dozens of agriculture and conservation groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and National Farmers Union, to unite in calling on Congress to pass a farm bill immediately. The coalition is expected to stage a rally today at the U.S. Capitol to urge the House to take up the farm bill.
Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, 1st District, is leading a bipartisan discharge petition effort that would compel the House majority leadership to bring the bill to the floor for a vote if 218 or more representatives sign it. Braley should be applauded for his leadership. All five House members of Iowa’s congressional delegation signed a letter on July 20 asking the House to take up the bill. I would hope all of Iowa’s representatives who are on record in calling for a Farm Bill Now will sign on to Braley’s bipartisan petition.
No other piece of legislation can match the farm bill’s contribution toward the conservation of private lands in America. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees got the farm bill right — and that is no small feat. They were able to draft a bipartisan bill that serves America’s farmers and natural resources while still helping reduce our deficit.
Now is the time for the House majority leadership to follow the Agriculture Committees’ thoughtful and bipartisan approach.
Sean McMahon is The Nature Conservancy’s North America Agriculture program director and is based in Des Moines. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org