The number of acres the government idles for conservation is contracting, and that’s caused as much by market forces — or “nature,” as one agriculture advocate put it — as it is by anything Congress has done or plans to do.
Whether or not the House and Senate can get into conference over their farm bills — both of which cut back conservation lands — the market’s appetites for more crops are beckoning farmers to abandon the Conservation Reserve Program and place idled lands back in production.
The program, a key part of Title II of the farm bill, was established in 1985 as an incentive for farmers to rent marginally productive land to the government. The farmers would collect a rental fee, and the government could help preserve the environment and create wildlife habitat.
Farmers face a competitive bidding process to enter the program, which is administered by the Agriculture Department, and environmental advocates say the program has been generally regarded as successful. In the mid-1990s, the program saw its peak, with nearly 37 million acres enrolled — roughly the area of Illinois. In July of this year, about 26.9 million acres were enrolled, according to USDA.
But while environmental groups want to see the program strengthened, industry generally wants to see more land brought into production. Spurred by an increase in commodity prices that began in 2006, many farmers want to take land out of the program and put it back in use, said Keith Collins, the former chief economist at the Agriculture Department.
“When prices double, there’s money to be made by a lot farmers by farming,” Collins said.
As for government, lawmakers must strike a balance in an atmosphere that involves stark trade-offs. Cutting the number of acres in the program can accommodate rising market demand for crops, but it does so at the expense of conservation. The House Agriculture Committee’s version of the farm bill would cut the number of authorized acres in the program from 32 million to 24 million.
“We have a lot of stomachs we need to feed — not just nationally,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., the Conservation, Energy, and Forestry Subcommittee chairman. “I also think it’s a right size to be able to focus where this investment is most effectively purposed.”
Collins framed it this way: “In a period of time when there’s a big demand on the land base to produce crops for energy — to produce crops for what’s going to be 9 billion people by 2050 — you might want to allow that land to be in production. But there’s also a lot of land that probably shouldn’t be in production. So determining the optimal size of what the conservation reserve program should be and what kind of land should go in it is a really difficult policy choice.”
Some argue that paring back the number of acres in the program makes sense. The thinking goes like this: With commodity prices up and farmers putting their land back into production, Congress faces an opportunity to cut a program that in some ways was already shrinking. “The benefit for doing it in statute is that they get credit for those savings, which they wouldn’t get if they let nature take its course,” said Ferd Hoefner, the policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
But others say that there should be a more stable way to preserve land. The “fatal flaw” with the program, says Craig Cox of the Environmental Working Group, is that farmers merely rent their land to the government. Many would like to see an option for a permanent transfer — or perhaps a lease longer than the current 10 years — but costs make it a tough sell in Congress.
“The reaction to that has been mostly favorable as a concept, but then gets immediately shut down when it gets scored by [the Congressional Budget Office] because there’s a big upfront cost,” Hoefner said.
The question, say some lawmakers, is whether there is an incentive for producers to permanently enroll their land in the program and whether the farm bill gives farmers enough assistance to care for the land properly.
“Making the rental agreements permanent might actually be a disincentive for producers who may balk at the idea of permanently giving up control of their acreage,” said Conservation, Energy, and Forestry Subcommittee ranking member Tim Walz, D-Minn. “At the end of the day, this is private land. Our farmers are good stewards of the land and will work to ensure conservation efforts continue.”
Other arguments against paring back the program are economic. Cox argues that savings from the program are not going entirely to deficit reduction, as some budget hawks claim, but rather to other programs.
“It seems as if there’s still a long way to go before this new farm bill becomes a reality, and I think more and more people and more and more members of Congress are beginning to understand that this is a bait-and-switch that’s being proposed,” Cox said. “They’re proposing cutting one program but then using 75 percent of the savings to gin up new programs.”
Thomspon argued that the cuts in the conservation title simplify the way farmers and ranchers use programs to improve lands in production, which saves taxpayers money. “We’ve taken 23 programs down to 13. Part of that is to make it more easy for farmers and ranchers to navigate,” he said. “It was not an easy process. I’m pleased to where we’ve come.”
Title II of the House version of the farm bill maintains current funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps farmers meet regulations through cost-share incentives. Critics of the program argue that money from it goes to big producers who use that money for concentrated animal-feeding operations. Advocates, meanwhile, say the program gives financial and technical assistance to producers and helps them plan and implement conservation practices.
If the president hasn’t signed a measure into law by Oct. 1 — which seems unlikely — the government may not be authorized to enroll any new lands for conservation through the general sign-up process. But many, including Thompson, say the House and Senate will ultimately find agreement on the conservation title.
“My impression is that there is more common ground than not,” Thompson said. “I’m very optimistic that we’re gonna be able to get that done.”
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”