Farm bill failure puts conservation funds in doubt for county

Jul 9, 2013 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The failure of the Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act could delay the availability of funds for conservation projects in Fremont County.

The farm bill failed June 20 in a 195-234 vote in the House of Representatives.

The legislation funds subsidies for farmers, insurance programs for agricultural producers, and food stamps for low-income people. The Senate passed a version of the bill on June 11.

One part of the bill allows local ranchers and farmers to obtain grants for improvements to irrigation systems, range land or cattle watering systems through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) through the National Resource Conservation Service.

Riverton's University of Wyoming Extension educator Ron Cunningham said local producers have used the funds to convert ditch irrigation systems to more efficient closed-pipe or sprinkler systems.

He does not see the current delay affecting local operators because they renovate water systems in the fall and winter when irrigation is not needed.

Cheryl Grapes, the assistant state conservationist for programs for then NRCS, said the farm bill's defeat means funding for the EQIP program is unsure. There is still time for Congress to pass a bill before funding is interrupted, however, since the federal fiscal year does not start until Oct. 1. But Grapes said it's unclear what that bill might look like.

"We're really unsure what will come down at this point," Grapes said. "It's just too early to predict."

She added that funds already are in place for EQIP projects in this fiscal year, so farmers and ranchers who already have contracts through EQIP do not need to worry about losing money for their projects.

Though funding for next year is not yet available, Grapes is confident it will be eventually.

"We would encourage agriculture producers, if they have projects they're interested in, to work on plans and talk with our staff," Grapes said. "That way they're ready if and when the funding does come around."

The federal agency has offices in Riverton, Lander, Fort Washakie and Dubois.

U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, voted for the bill.

"My top priority has always been to ensure Wyoming's agricultural producers are treated fairly and given every opportunity to compete on a national and global marketplace," she stated in a June 20 press release. "Today's bill was not perfect, but it provided producers the certainty to go forward in their industry."

U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, both R-Wyoming, voted against the Senate version of the bill.

Print Story
Read The Ranger...