Today, April 18, the U.S. House passed a motion to instruct farm bill negotiators to put a limit on subsidies to our nation's largest farms and redirect those resources to conservation efforts --- like farmland and wetland protection --- and research. The motion was sponsored by Michigan Representatives David Bonior and Nick Smith. It passed with a broad, bipartisan majority of 265-158.
BONIOR BATTLES TO PROTECT FARMS, SAVE WETLANDS
April 17, 2002 Contact: Bob Allison, (586) 469-3232
Washington, D.C. - U.S. Rep. David E. Bonior is battling to ramp up Michigan farmland conservation efforts and save more wetlands as suburban sprawl continues to threaten our state's farmers and agriculture.
Bonior, D-Mt. Clemens, and U.S. Rep. Nick Smith, R-Addison, joined together today to lobby for approximately a $20 billion increase in conservation funding over the next decade.
The money could help eliminate an $11.5 million backlog in Michigan's Farmland Protection Program, which compensates farmers for keeping their land for agricultural production and not selling it for development.
Bonior said he is concerned that Michigan farmers -- from sugar beet and black bean businesses in the Thumb region and the Saginaw-Bay City area to cherry growers in Traverse City to apple and peach growers in Macomb County -- face increasing pressures shut down their businesses.
"In Michigan, we continue to lose 68 square miles of farmland a year -- that's equivalent to two townships," Bonior said. "We are truly losing a vital and important part of our culture in every red barn, in every acre of topsoil, in every wetland that becomes a big-box department store or half-vacant development project.
"But it's not too late to turn things around. We can keep our small, family-owned farms in business and we can protect our environment."
Bonior and Nick Smith filed a motion to a joint House-Senate conference committee debating the U.S. Department of Agriculture's priorities. The motion calls for the USDA to reduce crop subsidy payments to mostly large-scale farming operations and funnel the savings into research and conversation grants for farmland and wetlands protection -- which smaller family farmers can more easily get. Currently, crop subsidies absorb 70 percent of farm spending dollars; conservation accounts for just 22.5 percent.
Michigan's Wetlands Reserve Program helps farmers and other land owners save marshes, bogs and other such habitats on their properties by giving them grants. The state currently has 94 pending applications from farmers in Michigan, about $613,000 in total unfunded grants.
"Wetlands are there to filter bacteria and pollutants long before they enter our lakes and rivers," Bonior said. "If we don't take these steps, we'll pay for them later. The Great Lakes system simply cannot take it."