Summary: S.1373 — 104th Congress (1995-1996)All Information (Except Text)

There is one summary for S.1373. Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Introduced in Senate (11/01/1995)

Agricultural Resources Enhancement Act of 1995 - Amends the Food Security Act of 1985 (the Act) to define: (1) "alternative conservation system" as one that achieves a substantial reduction in soil erosion; (2) "conservation system" to mean the conservation measures and practices that are approved for application by a producer to a highly erodible field that provide for cost effective and practical erosion reduction based on local resource conditions and standards contained in the Natural Resources Conservation Service field office technical guide (technical guide); and (3) "frequently cropped agricultural land" to mean agricultural land that exhibits wetland characteristics and that has been used for six of the ten years prior to January 1, 1996, for agricultural production or production of an annual or perennial agricultural crop, an aquaculture product, a nursery product, or a wetland crop.

Specifies that a designation of highly erodible land on agricultural land shall be valid until an owner or operator requests a new designation. Directs the Secretary of Agriculture (the Secretary) to provide the designation on the request of the owner or operator. Allows a designation of highly erodible land to be based on the most contemporary science, method, or technology, as determined by the Secretary, for determining soil erodibility that accurately reflects the potential for soil loss.

(Sec. 4) Revises provisions of the Act regarding the highly erodible land conservation program to provide that (with exceptions) any participant in an annual program under the Agricultural Act of 1949 after January 1, 1996, who in any crop year after that date produces an agricultural commodity on a field on which highly erodible land is predominate, shall be in violation of such provisions and ineligible for loans or payments in an amount proportionate to the severity of the violation, taking into account the intent of the person and the frequency of the violations. Sets forth or revises provisions regarding: (1) ineligibility for specified loans and payments because of violations; (2) exemptions; (3) the effect on a landlord of ineligibility of a tenant or sharecropper for benefits; (4) a good faith exemption; and (5) failure to apply a conservation plan.

Requires the Secretary to ensure that the standards and guidelines contained in a local technical guide applicable to a required conservation plan: (1) allow a person to use an alternative conservation system as a means of meeting the requirements and achieving the goals of the Act with respect to a highly erodible field that has been used in the production of an agricultural commodity after December 23, 1985; and (2) provide for conservation measures and practices that are cost-effective and technically and economically feasible based on local resource conditions and available conservation technology and that do not cause undue economic hardship to the person applying the plan or system.

Sets forth provisions regarding: (1) erosion measurement; (2) crop residue measurements; (3) revisions of conservation plans and systems and updating of local technical guides; (4) technical assistance; (5) violations; (6) expedited variances; and (7) persons affiliated with those affected by a reduction in benefits due to violations.

(Sec. 5) Revises provisions of the Act regarding wetland conservation to provide that (with exceptions) any person who participates in an annual program under the Agricultural Act of 1949 after January 1, 1996, who in any crop year after that date produces an agricultural commodity on converted wetland shall be in violation of such provisions and ineligible for loans or payments in an amount proportionate to the severity of the violation. Sets forth or revises provisions regarding ineligibility for loans and payments, delineation of wetland and exemptions (including a requirement that the Secretary establish a pilot program for mitigation banking of wetlands to assist owners and operators in complying with wetland conservation requirements), consultation with the Secretary of the Interior, and the effect of a reduction in benefits due to violations on affiliated persons.

Amends the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act to bar the Secretary from placing a permanent wetland conservation or floodplain easement on any farm property after January 1, 1996.

Amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to: (1) define "agricultural land" to mean cropland, pasture land, native pasture, rangeland, an orchard, a vineyard, an area that supports a wetland crop, and any other land that is used to produce or support the production of an annual or perennial agricultural crop, an aquaculture product, a nursery product, or a wetland crop; and (2) direct the Secretary to make all determinations concerning the presence of a wetland on agricultural land, the discharge or dredge of fill material from normal farming and ranching activities, and normal farming and ranching practices on agricultural land as provided in provisions permitting the discharge of dredged or fill material from normal farming, silviculture, and ranching activities.

(Sec. 6) Revises provisions of the Act to direct the Secretary, during calendar years 1996 through 2002, to establish an environmental conservation acreage reserve program (ECARP) to be implemented through contracts and the acquisition of easements to assist owners and operators of farms and ranches to conserve and enhance soil, water, and related natural resources, including grazing land, wetland, and wildlife habitat.

Directs the Secretary to carry out ECARP by providing: (1) for the long-term protection of environmentally sensitive land; and (2) technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to improve the management and operation of the farms and ranches and to reconcile productivity and profitability with protection and enhancement of the environment.

Specifies that ECARP shall consist of the conservation reserve, wetlands, reserve, and environmental quality incentive programs.

Directs the Secretary to designate watersheds or regions of special environmental sensitivity, including the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, and Long Island Sound regions, as conservation priority areas eligible for enhanced assistance, subject to specified procedures and requirements.

(Sec. 7) Revises provisions regarding the purpose and goals of the Act, including specifying that the goals of the conservation reserve program shall be to idle land only on a voluntary basis, conserve the environment, ensure respect for private property rights, and enhance wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Modifies Act provisions regarding: (1) eligible lands; (2) enrollment priorities; (3) priority functions; (4) duration of contracts; (5) incidental grazing; (6) determination of annual rental payments to be paid to owners and operators for converting eligible cropland normally devoted to the production of an agricultural commodity to a less intensive use; and (7) ownership and operation requirements.

Directs the Secretary, regarding such priority functions, to: (1) enroll in the conservation reserve program at least 1.5 million acres of cropland or pasture land that are contiguous or proximate to permanent bodies of water, tributaries or smaller streams, or intermittent streams that the Secretary determines significantly contribute to downstream water quality degradation; (2) accept offers to enroll up to 1.5 million acres of frequently cropped agricultural land; (3) accept offers to enroll a field containing highly erodible land if specified conditions are met; and (4) ensure that such offers to enroll acreage are accepted so as to maximize wildlife habitat benefits.

(Sec. 8) Revises the purposes of the Act to include protecting wetlands for purposes of enhancing water quality and providing wildlife benefits while recognizing landowner rights. Modifies Act provisions regarding: (1) minimum enrollment (provides for enrollment in the wetlands reserve program of not more than 975,000 acres during calendar years 1991 through 2002); (2) eligibility; (3) other eligible lands; (4) easements (specifies that the development of a restoration plan, including any compatible use, shall be made through the local Natural Resources Conservation Service representative in consultation with the State technical committee); and (5) duties of the Secretary regarding easement priorities.

(Sec. 9) Revises Act provisions regarding the use of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to direct the Secretary to use CCC funds, for each of FY 1996 through 2002, to carry out specified programs. Sets forth provisions regarding advance appropriations to the CCC. Makes specified funds available for the environmental quality incentives, wetland reserve, and conservation reserve programs.

Sets forth provisions regarding conservation plans, acreage limitations, and tenant protection.

(Sec. 11) Encourages the Secretary to promote wildlife benefits to the extent practicable and to the extent that the action does not conflict with the requirements or purposes of the programs.