WASHINGTON, D.C. - Oregon Congressman Bob Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, today said good riddance to a controversial and ill-advised provision of the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1997 (H.R. 1469) placing 14 million acre cap on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), striking the cap from the bill on the House floor.
"The Conservation Reserve Program is a tremendous success story; it deserves to be praised, not toyed with. CRP is the principal agriculture program to conserve highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive lands. It's worked very well in the past, and can work just as well in the future, so long as politics is left out of the equation," said Smith, whose point of order against the provision resulted in it being struck from the bill.
"I'm delighted this ill-advised controversy is behind us and this chapter of the debate is closed. An arbitrary, politically-motivated cap on CRP acreage would be bad for America's farmers, taxpayers, and the highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive lands CRP was designed to protect," Smith said.
Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA), an Appropriations Committee member who fought the cap, agreed.
"Capping CRP acres at 14 million would be unwise and unfair, hurting farmers who don't in any way, shape, or form deserve to be hurt. For Eastern Washington, that would have been very damaging, and I simply will not stand for it. I will continue to defend the integrity of the Conservation Reserve Program and the farmers who depend on it," Nethercutt said.
Under CRP, which was reauthorized in the 1996 Farm Bill, landowners enter into contracts with the USDA to place highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive cropland in long-term conservation practices for 10-15 years. In exchange, landowners receive annual rental payments for the land and cost-share assistance for establishing those practices. Of 32.9 million acres currently enrolled nationwide, some 22 million acres are expiring September 30.
While the Clinton Administration assumed 19 million acres of CRP land would be enrolled in its FY1998 budget, the Appropriations Committee's version of the bill included a cap of 14 million acres, a provision roundly criticized by farm state lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of eastern, southern, and central Oregon, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Nethercutt, long active in agriculture issues and well-respected by farm groups, represents eastern Washington's Fifth Congressional District.