Bush budget would boost conservation programs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – President George Bush is expected to propose a record $3.9 billion for conservation programs on the nation’s farmlands in fiscal year 2004.

The FY 2004 funding request is $1.9 billion higher, or more than double the funding for these activities, when the Bush Administration came into office just two years ago. It is an increase of $582 million over the FY 2003 level.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced the president’s budget intentions during an address Jan. 30 at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association annual convention.

The secretary also released proposed rules for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP.

Direct payments. Nearly $3.5 billion of the president’s record-level proposal will be used for financial assistance or other direct payments to farmers.

Highlights of the budget include:

* $2 billion for the Conservation Reserve Program for rental and other costs on new and old acreage;

* $850 million for the EQIP program;

* $250 million for the Wetlands Reserve Program to enroll an additional 178,000 acres;

* $112 million for the Farmland Protection Program, which is $27 million over the 2003 level;

* $85 million for the Grassland Reserve Program, a $13 million increase over 2003:

* $51 million for ground and surface water conservation, a $6 million increase over 2003;

* $42 million for the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, an increase of $16 million over 2003; and

* $19 million for the new Conservation Security Program, for which an advanced notice of proposed rule is expected shortly.

EQIP rule. The secretary also announced that the proposed rule for EQIP, reauthorized in the 2002 Farm Bill, was release Jan. 30.

Highlights of the revised EQIP proposal include a reduction in the amount of planning requirements needed to develop a contract;

* Up to 90 percent cost share for limited resource and beginning producers;

* Cost share assistance for waste storage facilities regardless of size, but producers must develop and implement a comprehensive nutrient management plan;

* Allowance of producers to have more than one contract per tract at any given time;

* Allocates 60 percent of EQIP funds towards livestock related practices; and,

* Eliminates the program’s dual administration by delegating EQIP to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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