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Big Livestock Operations Will Keep Their Share of EQIP
Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was thwarted Wednesday, Oct. 24th in an attempt to shift environmental funding in the 2007 Farm Bill to more small and medium-sized livestock operations.
The passage of an amendment Wednesday to the 2007 Farm Bill is a blow to groups that are displeased with the fact that the federal government helps large corporate Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) foot the bill for environmental improvements.
In writing the farm bill, Harkin had reduced the cap on payments in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The program is a popular and successful federal initiative that helps many livestock farmers by providing funds from the government to share the cost of environmental improvement projects. Under current law, the federal EQIP cost-share amount is capped at $450,000.
Harkin had reduced that cap to $240,000 in his proposed farm bill, stating that his intentions were to get more funding to small and medium-sized livestock operations. "I think this is a way of distributing the money more equitably," he said, adding, the larger facilities should shoulder more of the cost themselves. "They have a requirement under the Clean Water Act to do certain things…I think that these are very big operations, and I think they have the wherewithal to perhaps meet those requirements."
An amendment to the bill was passed in the ag committee that resulted in the EQIP cap being restored to the current level of $450,000. The amendment, offered by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and supported by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was a topic of lengthy discussion during the agriculture committee's farm bill debate Wednesday.
Roberts clearly stated his philosophy on the matter. "I think you ought to direct the money to the people who need it most, who produce the most, who have the biggest environmental problems." He said feedyards and ranchers in his state use EQIP to comply with federally mandated environmental policies, and "compliance is very expensive." He said that reducing the cost-share amount to $240,000 could result in some livestock operators going out of business. "And I'm not talking about huge feedlots, either. I'm talking about operations of less than 1,000 head that could be hit by this lower limit."
Leahy, who typically agrees with Harkin much more often than he agrees with Roberts, noted the cost disparity of labor and supplies when completing environmental projects in the Northeast as compared to projects done in other areas of the country. "Some of the biggest environmental problems cost the most to deal with," he said. "People can either drag their feet and not clean it up, or actually clean it up and everybody's better off if they do. If it's not broken, let's not fix it. This is a program that actually works."
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND, came to Harkin's defense, stating that less than one quarter of 1 percent of all EQIP projects have exceeded $240,000. He spoke out in opposition to the amendment, saying, "This doesn't cost any money but it's going to shift. Where's it going to go? It's going to go to the bigger operators at the expense of the medium-size and smaller operators."
In a futile attempt to sway the opinion of his committee, Harkin stated statistics from the last five years — reporting that only three EQIP projects out of 7,520 in Iowa have exceeded $240,000. In Georgia there weren't any projects at all over the $240,000 level. Most states had thousands of EQIP projects, but only a handful of them in each state cost more than $240,000.
The Senate ag committee adjourned Wednesday and will resume business Thursday, Oct. 25th at 9 a.m. CDT. Please check here to see the agriculture committee's Farm Bill, as well as a complete list of amendments passed by the committee Wednesday.