A U.S. Senate spending bill proposing about $331 million in cuts to agriculture conservation programs that were first included in this year's farm bill drew the ire of environmental advocates this week.
The Washington-based Environmental Working Group released a report Tuesday criticizing Congress for partially selling the farm bill for its conservation measures then proposing measures to cut its conservation funding by 8 percent.
"Subsidies are going to the largest farms and wealthy farm owners in a time of record profits," said Craig Cox, the author of the report. "It really suggests a skewed set of priorities."
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who sits on the panel that reported the spending bill, said spending had to decrease for conservation measures in order to secure funding for nutritional programs such as Women, Infants and Children and the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Center, which were eliminated under the White House budget.
"We're all disappointed that the farm bill didn't do more to prevent giant corporate farms from receiving millions of dollars in farm program payments," Dorgan said in a Thursday statement. "But the fact is this year's agriculture appropriations bill includes a significant increase in funding for conservation programs over last year."
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said the cuts the Senate is proposing are tentative and a result of pressure from the White House and Republican Senate minority to cut those programs even more.
"The leadership in both houses is simply not going to deal with these bills until the next administration," Johnson said.
The cuts affect five government conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which took a 21 percent cut bringing its total from $1.3 billion to about $1 billion in funding, according to Cox's report.
Johnson said EQIP is one of the larger conservation programs used by North Dakota farmers and ranchers.