BUSH WILL PROPOSE RECORD CONSERVATION BUDGET
President Bush will propose a record $3.9 billion for conservation programs, an increase of $582 million over the fiscal year 2003 level. The fiscal 2004 funding request is $1.9 billion higher - more than double the funding for these activities when the Bush administration came into office two years ago
During an address to cattle producers and ranchers at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association annual convention, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman also announced the release of proposed rules for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Nearly $3.5 billion of the President's record-level proposal will be used for financial assistance or other direct payments to farmers. Highlights of the budget include:
• $2 billion for the Conservation Reserve Program for rental and other costs on new and old acreage, an increase of approximately $140 million over 2003;
• $850 million will be provided for the EQIP program, a $255 million increase above FY 2003;
$250 million for the Wetlands Reserve Program to enroll an additional 178,000 acres;
• $112 million for the Farmland Protection Program, which is $27 million over the 2003 level;
• $85 million for the Grassland Reserve Program, a $13 million increase over 2003:
• $51 million for Ground and Surface Water Conservation, a $6 million increase over 2003;
• $42 million for the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, an increase of $16 million over 2003;
• $19 million for the new Conservation Security Program on which an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule (ANPR) is expected shortly; and
• $8 million for water conservation and water quality enhancements in the Klamath Basin of Oregon and California.
The proposal seeks to ensure that all of the cost-share and technical assistance conservation work authorized by the 2002 farm law for fiscal 2004 will be delivered. USDA will use an additional $432 million, through a new farm law technical assistance account, to ensure farmers and ranchers can access the technical work necessary to fully utilize the conservation programs' financial assistance. This new account, which the administration initially proposed for fiscal 2003 at $333 million, is necessary because of a statutory cap that restricts USDA's ability to pay for technical assistance from farm program funds.
Veneman also announced that the proposed rule for EQIP, reauthorized in the 2002 farm law, is being released for publication in the Federal Register for public comment. This will allow farmers and ranchers the ability to utilize program funding in the coming year.
The proposed rule for EQIP, reauthorized in the 2002 farm law, was released Thursday for publication in the Federal Register for public comment. This will allow farmers and ranchers the ability to utilize program funding in the coming year. Highlights of the revised EQIP proposal reduce the amount of planning requirements needed to develop a contract; provide up to 90 percent cost share for limited resource and beginning producers; provide livestock producers with cost share assistance for waste storage facilities regardless of size, but they must develop and implement a comprehensive nutrient management plan; allow producers to have more than one contract per tract at any given time; allocate 60 percent of EQIP funds towards livestock related practices; and, eliminate the program's dual administration by delegating EQIP to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Comments on the EQIP proposal will be accepted for 30 days after publication. Additional information on EQIP and other conservation programs is on the Web at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov.