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Conaway Skeptical of Funding for 40-Million-Acre CRP

WASHINGTON - House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway poured cold water Monday on a proposal by the senior Democrat on his committee for a 40-million-acre ceiling for the Conservation Reserve Program, now limited to 24 million acres. 

“He’ll have to figure out where that money will come from to do it,” Conaway said when asked about the idea backed by Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson. Congress lowered the CRP cap as part of the 2014 farm law. 

Peterson would have to meet the same hurdle as any lawmaker who wants to change current law, said Conaway – find an offsetting cut to pay for any expansion of the program.

Wildlife groups such as Pheasants Forever say a larger CRP would pay benefits in water quality and improved wildlife habitat as well as provide economic stability to rural areas. USDA pays an annual rent to landowners who agree to idle fragile land for 10 years or longer.

Conaway said the Agriculture Committee will draft the new farm bill a week or two before it is guaranteed time for House debate. “I would not anticipate I’ll have any floor time until early 2018,” he said during the Agri-Pulse Farm Bill Summit. 

The chairman said he was “committed 110%” to reauthorization of food stamps and farm supports before the 2014 farm law expires in fall 2018, but he held open the possibility of separate bills for each, if it would speed action on them. “In all likelihood, they will be together,” said Conaway.

The House defeated a farm bill for the first time in June 2013 when conservative Republicans demanded the largest food stamp cuts – $40 billion – in a generation. The House passed separate bills for food stamps and farm supports, which were combined into a single bill during negotiations with the Senate.

For the 2018 farm bill, Conaway said he will propose “meaningful reforms” in food stamps, chiefly to toughen work requirements for able-bodied adults without children, now allowed 90 days of benefits in a three-year period. States are allowed to waive the limit during times of high unemployment.

“Work is going to be a big deal for folks who are otherwise able to work,” Conaway told reporters afterward.

He also said, “Food aid is one of the things I would cut.” The White House proposed elimination of the McGovern-Dole school food program in a budget package last week.

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