Case’s agriculture bill heralded by farmers, environmentalists as a landmark initiative

WASHINGTON — Environmental Defense and Hawai‘i farmers and ranchers this week praised the introduction of what they called “landmark legislation” to promote energy development, healthy food alternatives expansion and farmland conservation.

Co-introduced by U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-2nd Congressional District, the Healthy Farms, Foods and Fuels Act of 2006 would also double conservation spending to provide cleaner air, water and wildlife habitat to help stabilize global warming.

According to a press release from Case’s office, the bipartisan legislation encourages energy development and preservation on farms, ranches and forest lands.

“Renewable energy, strengthening agriculture and good stewardship and preservation of agricultural have long been high priorities of mine,” Case said in the press release. “Expanding conservation incentives will ensure that farm policy helps all farmers and ranchers regardless of how much land they farm, whether they grow traditional or specialty crops, or where they live.”

Case, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said all rural communities will benefit, especially those facing “tremendous development pressures.”

Case’s 2nd Congressional District represents rural O‘ahu and the Neighbor Islands.

The programs the bill introduces will “protect prime agricultural land from urban encroachment, thereby maintaining a rural quality of life and open spaces,” Case said.

In a letter to Case, representatives of Haleakala Ranch Company, Hawaii Organic Farmers Association, Hawaii Agriculture Research Center and Hana Ranch praised the initiative.

“This bill would provide more assistance to help farmers manage working lands, expand funding for easements to protect ranchland and farmland, expand support to get more local produce into schools, and promote greater use and production of renewable energy on Hawai‘i farms and ranches,” the letter states. “The bill waives an income limitation that has prevented many Hawai‘i farmers and ranchers from participating in conservation programs. It also expands the minimum conservation funding Hawai‘i would receive from $12 million to $20 million.”

Currently, most federal support for American farmers flows to less than 10 percent of the nation’s agricultural producers, officials from Case’s office said. Farmers in 25 out of 435 congressional districts collected half of all farm spending during the last decade.

Wisconsin House Democrat Ron Kind co-introduced the bill with Case, and 26 congressmen and women cosponsored it, including ranking members of the House Agriculture, Science and Energy and Commerce committees.

“Energy, health and the environment should be the central focus of our federal farm and food policies when Congress renews federal farm and food legislation next year,” Scott Faber said in the release. Faber is the farm policy campaign director of Environmental Defense, a national environmental organization.

“Congressman Case is seizing the opportunity to boost energy production on our farms, to give consumers more healthy food choices, and to reward more farmers and forest landowners when they take steps to meet our environmental challenges,” he said.

Three former chiefs of the Natural Resources Conservation Service also praised the introduction of the first major agriculture bill introduced prior to the 2007 expiration of the current farm bill, saying it will help farmers address the nation’s energy crisis by boosting funding for renewable energy development on farms, ranches and forest lands.

“The Healthy Farms bill is the most ambitious conservation bill in American history,” Norm Berg, NRCS Chief from 1979 to 1982 and a long-time advisor to the Soil and Water Conservation Society, said in the release.

“When we renew federal farm and food policies next year, Congress has a chance to ensure that more farm spending is linked to rising levels of environmental stewardship — helping more farmers and the environment,” said Pearlie Reed, NRCS chief from 1998 to 2002.

According to the release, the Healthy Farms, Foods and Fuels Act will:

• Increase from $200 million to $2 billion annual loan guarantees for renewable energy development on farms and forest lands;

• Expand programs that provide local, healthy food choices to our school children and dramatically expand coupon programs that allow elderly and low income Americans to shop at farmer’s markets;

• Double incentives to $2 billion a year for farmers, ranchers and forest land owners to protect drinking water supplies and make other environmental improvements;

• Provide funding to restore nearly 3 million acres of wetlands;

• Provide funding to protect 6 million acres of farm and ranch land from sprawl.

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