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DEFENSE COMMUNITIES 360

Fix to Agricultural Program Would Aid Encroachment Efforts

  • November 15, 2011
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ADC has been working with its members and the House Agriculture Committee to reverse a legislative change that has prevented states and communities from applying funds from a DOD program for combating encroachment at military installations to a similar program in the Agriculture Department (USDA) intended to protect farmland from development.

Until the 2008 Farm Bill was enacted, local or state agencies and nonprofit groups in a number of defense communities were able to use funds from DOD’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI) as the match required for the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program to purchase conservation easements from farmers and ranchers whose land helped buffer installations and training ranges.

When it came to agricultural land bordering installations, the goals of the two programs clearly overlap. The farmland program, part of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, is designed to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses, while the defense program aims to shield installations and ranges from development.

The ability to leverage funds from the DOD program for the USDA one has resulted in the protection of thousands of acres bordering installations, said Mike Cooper, chairman of the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission. The Farm Bill, however, converted the farm land program into a grant program and inadvertently barred the use of matching funds from other federal programs to meet its requirements.

“It stopped the program,” Cooper said. States and communities that had relied on REPI money in the past to obtain funds from the farm land program no longer were able to do so.

Last week, ADC sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee asking for their support in reversing the Farm Bill provision that altered how the farm land program is implemented. “Since REPI was often the sole source of funding for cooperating entities, the change effectively shut down the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program in many areas,” wrote ADC President John Armbrust.

There is a bipartisan consensus on the committee that the problem needs to be fixed, Cooper said. Now the panel is trying to determine what would be the most efficient way to correct the language in the Farm Bill. Given the importance of supporting national security, lawmakers would like to address this as quickly as possible, he added.

To the affected communities, resolving the problem is critical, Cooper stressed. Limiting encroachment at a base is one of the most valuable actions a community can take to support the military.

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