U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined the Senate yesterday in passing the Farm Bill, major legislation that will send needed assistance to New Mexico farmers and livestock producers, and help almost every N.M. county provide basic public services.
The Farm Bill, which provides agriculture funding and sets policies on everything from crop insurance and disaster aid to nutrition programs for the next five years, passed the Senate 68-32. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week by a vote of 251-166. The bill now goes to the president to be signed into law.
Udall and Heinrich fought for several important provisions in the bill for New Mexico, including:
-Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes one year of funding for PILT, which ensures N.M. counties will get funding they count on to help pay for services such as schools, emergency response and roads.
-Livestock disaster assistance: The bill provides continued and retroactive emergency assistance for N.M. producers, many of whom were forced to cut back their herds during the recent years of drought.
-Dairies: The bill levels the playing field for New Mexico’s dairies.
“Farmers and ranchers from Portales to Lordsburg have told me how much they need certainty about prices and assistance to help them recover some of their losses from the drought. While the Farm Bill isn’t perfect, it includes reforms and programs that will strengthen farm communities and that are vital to our state’s overall economy,” Udall said. ”This bill extends disaster assistance to ranchers who have struggled with drought and were forced to cut back their herds. It makes our dairies more competitive. It provides incentives for farmers and ranchers to conserve water and natural resources, which will help ensure our agriculture industry is strong for generations to come. And it funds critical rural development grants that help keep public facilities and water infrastructure strong, and that enable New Mexicans in our small rural communities to start businesses and become homeowners.”
“Farmers, dairy producers, and ranchers help drive New Mexico’s economy and have shaped our state’s history as many growers come from families that have cultivated land for generations,” Heinrich said. ”The farm bill includes key reforms to American agriculture policy and reauthorizes federal funding for important programs including soil and water conservation, food and nutrition, rural development, and provides a permanent livestock disaster assistance program for producers affected by recent devastating droughts. I’m especially pleased that we prioritize the next generation of farmers and ranchers across a variety of programs through increased program funding and eligibility and help spur innovations in new industries like bio-energy. Furthermore, the increased efficiency and accountability in the farm bill will save taxpayers billions of dollars.”
Udall and Heinrich helped lead a bipartisan coalition fighting to include PILT funding, which expired at the end of last year with no plan for renewal. PILT compensates counties that host large amounts of federal land, and is a major source of revenue for rural communities. Federal land can’t be developed or taxed, but counties still must provide services to their residents, such as police and fire protection, schools and roads. In 2013, 32 New Mexico counties received $34,692,967. The Farm Bill includes $410 million for PILT, and New Mexico is expected to receive about $34 million in 2014.
“PILT funding in the Farm Bill is a big win for our counties,” Udall said. “It will be a big relief for parents with school children and all residents who rely on emergency services and safe roads. We still need permanent funding, and I will continue to work for long-term funding that New Mexico counties can rely on.”
“Our effort to restore funding for the PILT program in the farm bill is a major victory for rural New Mexico,” Heinrich added.
Overall, the Farm Bill cuts spending by $23 billion, in large part by eliminating farm subsidy payments. In place of traditional subsidies and other programs, the bill creates a new crop insurance program. The bill also consolidates government conservation programs and includes an $8 billion reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over 10 years by closing a loophole tied to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The change will not affect eligibility for SNAP recipients in New Mexico.
More information on programs that will help N.M. farmers and ranchers follows:
Livestock producers – The bill includes almost $7 billion in funding for ranchers through livestock disaster programs, conservation, research, energy, and export promotion, including:
-Retroactive payments for producers who suffered losses after the previous emergency disaster assistance program expired in October 2011.
-Long-term funding for the emergency disaster assistance program. The bill funds the program over 10 years, a significant improvement on previous livestock disaster provisions, which were ad-hoc or temporary. The livestock disaster programs are estimated to provide nearly $4 billion of assistance to producers over the next 10 years.
-A minimum of $4.8 billion over five years in funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help livestock producers implement conservation programs to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related resources on agricultural land and nonindustrial private forestland and improve other natural resources.
-Flexibility through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for increased access to acres for haying and grazing. This will allow producers important access to enrolled CRP lands in special situations, such as drought, when forage is low elsewhere and feed costs are high.
Dairies – The bill replaces the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) and other dairy support programs with a new Dairy Producer Margin Protection Program which allows dairy producers to purchase coverage to protect them when margins, calculated as milk price minus feed costs, fall below a threshold.
Chiles, nuts and other fruits and vegetables – Annual funding for block grants to states for specialty crops – which includes chiles, pecans, apples and other fruits and vegetables – is increased to $72.5 million, from $55 million. New Mexico’s share will increase to almost $600,000 per year.
-Funding for the National Organic Program is increased to $15 million a year, from $11 million. It includes $5 million in mandatory funding for technology upgrades.
-Funding of $57.5 million for the organic certification cost-share program.
Acequias – The bill includes a provision that enables irrigation associations, including acequias, to qualify for grants through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to increase agricultural water efficiency and further conservation of soil, water and other natural resources. In addition, the top leaders of both House and Senate Agriculture Committees wrote to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to urge his department to improve outreach and coordination with New Mexico’s acequia associations on future funding opportunities.
Rural Development – The bill funds a number of USDA Rural Development programs that are critical for N.M. communities, including rural broadband expansion, housing and business loans, and public infrastructure development. Highlights important to New Mexico include:
-The Rural Energy Savings Program: This new program will provide loans for rural energy efficiency projects. The agreement authorizes $75 million annually through fiscal year 2018 for the program.
-Rural Energy for America Program: $50 million per year to help lower energy bills for producers and rural business owners.
-Rural broadband: $50 million annually, as well as loan authority, through fiscal year 2018.
-Distance learning and telemedicine: $75 million a year through FY2018.
-Value-Added Agricultural Market Development grants: $63 million in mandatory funding.
-Rural Business Opportunity grants: $65 million.
-Rural Cooperative grants: $40 million annually.
-The Intermediary Relending Program: $25 million annually.
-Rural Business Investment grants: $20 million annually.
-Water, Waste Disposal and Wastewater Facility grants: $30 million annually.
-Emergency and Imminent Community Water Assistance grants: $25 million annually.
-The Rural Water and Wastewater Circuit Rider Program: $20 million annually.
-Solid Waste Management grants: $10 million annually.
-Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program: $20 million per year and makes veterans a priority.
Farmers’ markets – The bill increases mandatory funding for the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program to $30 million from $10 million annually and authorizes $10 million in discretionary funding each fiscal year. This funding is for grants for infrastructure to promote local foods including farmers’ markets and other producer to consumer markets. It gives priority to applications that include projects benefitting underserved communities.