Moreover, the baseline budget would triple for the newly created Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to a whopping $2.2 billion for the next five years. That’s in spite of the nation’s record federal budget deficit.
The land trust special interests are seeking the change because they know these programs will face an uphill funding battle in light of our growing fiscal pressures. According to a 2011 report by the American Farmland Trust, “Continuing these programs at current rates of spending would cost an additional $674 million annually in the next farm bill — additional money that will not be forthcoming.” So land trusts pushed Congress to secure the program with permanent funding by shifting it under one enormous easement program.
Already the USDA controls over 7 million acres of private farmland and forests under easement — a region larger than the states of Vermont and Rhode Island combined. That’s land that could be used to grow crops and bring down rising food prices.
Let’s hope that when Congress returns for the lame-duck session, it addresses the problem of escalating food prices and ballooning budgets, and puts the “farm” back in “farm bill.”
Dana J. Gattuso is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative, free-market think-tank established in 1982.