Strong, well-funded conservation programs and broad participation by agricultural producers are key to making first generation biofuel production (i.e., corn and soy-based) more sustainable. Ramping up the production of advanced biofuels (made from agricultural and forestry residues, urban and agricultural waste streams, native perennial grasses and forbs, short-rotation woody biomass, other perennial bioenergy crops, and algae) promises to make next generation biofuels much more environmentally sustainable. Yet, on September 30, the Farm Bill, which in the past has helped advance these priorities, expired. The next day, the federal government shut down, halting all programs.

According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service , the following conservation programs expired on September 30:

  • Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program
  • Conservation Reserve Program
  • Grassland Reserve Program
  • Healthy Forest Reserve Program
  • Wetlands Reserve Program
  • Conservation of Private Grazing Land
  • Grassroots Source Water Protection Program
  • Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion and Sediment Control
  • Watershed Rehabilitation Program
  • Voluntary Access and Habitat Incentives Program

The following conservation programs remain authorized through September 30, 2014, thanks to an extension in the fiscal year 2012 agriculture appropriations legislation:

  • Conservation Stewardship Program
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program
  • Farmland Protection Program
  • Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program

However, with the government shutdown on October 1, all activity has ceased.

Most Farm Bill energy programs expired in 2012. Programs affected include: Bio-based Markets, Biorefinery Assistance, Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, Rural Energy for America, Biomass Research and Development Initiative, Biomass Crop Assistance, and Community Wood Energy.

The House completed its work on its version of the Farm Bill (H.R.2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 ) on September 28, when it combined its agriculture and nutrition bills into one bill, and sent it to the Senate. The Senate rejected the House bill (primarily over the fact that the House bill would cut funding for nutrition programs too deeply) and requested a conference committee be formed to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions. The Senate named the following senators to the conference committee: Stabenow (D-MI), Leahy (D-VT), Harkin (D-IA), Baucus (D-MT), Brown (D-OH), Klobuchar (D-MN), Bennet (D-CO), Cochran (R-MS), Chambliss (R-GA), Roberts (R-KS), Boozman (R-AR), and Hoeven (R-ND). Reportedly, the Speaker of the House said that he would appoint conferees promptly, as soon as the Senate requested a conference committee.

(For more information, read earlier SBFF articles: Senate approves Farm Bill; Debate moves to the House (June 14) and House and Senate ag committees mark up very different Farm Bills (May 17).

October 4, 2013