“The president has proposed a number of cuts to conservation, local foods and other agricultural programs in the 2009 federal budget that were negotiated over a three-year period and delicately crafted in the 2008 farm bill,” says Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust (AFT). “We have a very clear message for Congress and especially the appropriators: ‘Stick with the balanced funding in the 2008 farm bill!’”

The programs help farmers and ranchers apply needed conservation programs on their lands that in turn provide cleaner water and air, wildlife habit, and more to the public. Since more than half the land in the United States is working farm and ranch land, the environmental health of this land is critical to providing the food, fiber, bio-energy and environmental benefits for our country.

“Conservation programs are historically under-funded, and it would be a terrible shame to turn the clock back on the environmental gains that these programs provide,” said Scholl. “We believe it is critical to send a strong message that conservation and foods programs cannot always be the source of dollars for other programs.”

Among the USDA programs proposed for cuts:

- The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) helps farmers, ranchers and private landowners apply conservation benefits on their land while yielding public benefits;

- The Farmland Protection Program provides matching funds to help purchase agricultural easements on productive farm and ranch land;

- The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program was established to implement conservation measures on agricultural lands in this critical watershed;

- Section 32 funds to the Domestic Food Assistance Program provide money to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program;

- Specialty Crop Block Grants support producers of fruits, vegetables and nuts by providing research, technical assistance, food safety and educational programs;

- Agricultural Management Assistance Program provides assistance to states where participation in the Federal Crop Insurance Program typically has been low, but where the need to address water and soil conservation concerns exists.

“If U.S. agriculture is to remain competitive, we must have adequate funding to keep our farmers and ranchers economically viable, to better protect our nation’s most strategic natural resources; and to provide our citizens access to healthy foods and the environmental benefits our producers provide. Our future depends on making good budget choices today,” says Scholl.