Acequias leaders in New Mexico are pleased with the passage of the Farm Bill which expands acequia eligibility for certain water conservation programs and resources to support the growth of local food systems. After years of negotiation, the bill passed with bi-partisan support earlier this week and is scheduled to be signed by President Obama today. “We greatly appreciate the work of our congressional delegation to improve acequia eligibility for conservation programs,” said Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. “Investment in agriculture will expand the availability of locally grown food and support the livelihood of farmers and ranchers in New Mexico’s acequia communities.”
A major highlight in the new Farm Bill is the Regional Conservation Program in which USDA can partner with irrigation association such as acequias to implement conservation practices. “Particularly during this time of drought, conservation practices are vital for farmers and ranchers,” emphasized Garcia. Congressman Ben R. Lujan was able to include specific language for acequia eligibility in the House version of the Farm Bill but the final version was generalized to irrigation associations and local units of government, which will serve a similar purpose. Additionally, acknowledging the need to support acequias, the House and Senate agriculture committees sent a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack asking for specific outreach to acequias to address their irrigation infrastructure and water delivery needs.
Other highlights of the legislation include continued livestock disaster programs, an expanded Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program (BFR), and continued funding of the Outreach and Advocacy Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (OASDFR). However, mandatory funding for the OASDFR program was cut in half over the previous Farm Bill. Low income families that rely on the SNAP program will be affected by cuts as well. Altogether, the Farm Bill outcome was mixed but we are relieved that Congress reached a compromise and passed legislation that provides vital support to rural, agricultural communities and to families in need of nutrition support,” said Garcia.