This week, after a year and half of negotiations, the House and Senate passed a conference report for a $289 billion, 5 year Farm Bill. Although President Bush plans to veto the measure, both chambers passed the conference report by veto-proof margins: 318-106 in the House and 81-15 in the Senate. The National Trust is cautiously optimistic that the House and Senate will override the President’s veto next week.
The National Trust and its partners are pleased the following important historic preservation initiatives are included in the Farm Bill Conference Report:
Included in the Rural Development title is the Rural Collaborative Investment Program (RCIP), which is designed to, among other things, “provide regions with a flexible investment vehicle…to achieve measurable community and economic prosperity, growth and sustainability.”
Within RCIP is the Regional Innovation Grants Program which provides grants to Regional Boards (created under RCIP) “for use in implementing projects and initiatives that are identified” in other sections of the RCIP program. Apreference would be given to an application proposing projects and initiatives that “protect and promote rural heritage.” In addition, one of the purposesof the grant is “to preserve and promote rural heritage.”
According to the RCIP definitions section, “In general, the term ‘rural heritage’ means historic sites, structures, and districts. The term ‘rural heritage’ includes historic rural downtown areas and main streets, neighborhoods, farmsteads, scenic and historic trails, heritage areas, and historic landscapes.”
The Rural Collaborative Investment Program is authorized at $135 million over 5 years. A Regional Board may not receive more than $6 million during any 5 year period under the Regional Innovation Grants Program.
The National Trust looks forward to working with the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees to ensure this important program receives the appropriations funding it needs to be implemented. This will encourage rural communities to put into practice rural heritage based, sustainable economic development projects.
Farmland Protection Program and Grasslands Reserves
In the Conservation Title, land that “contains historic and archeological resources” is eligible to be included in the Farmland Protection and Grasslands Reserve Programs. The Farmland Protection Program has played an instrumental role in permanently protecting prime, unique, and important farmland. The program has successfully kept our nation’s historical farms in agricultural use that often border National Parks, Civil War Battlefields and ancient Indian mounds. Including historical or archaeological resources as eligible land in the Grassland Reserve Program will provide an additional tool to protect historic farmland throughout the United States.
The Historic Barn Preservation Program housed within the Rural Development title is reauthorized, with emphasis on funds for barn inventory surveys. It would add more historic agricultural architecture to the National Register and take steps to preserve these important historic pieces of the rural landscape that reflect our nation’s past. The National Trust will work with its partners to support efforts to secure appropriations for this program.
The Farm Bill extends by 2 years the special rule regarding contributions of capital gain real property for conservation purposes. The voluntary use of conservation easements has long been recognized as an effective preservation tool. We look forward to working with our partners to permanently extend this successful conservation easement donation incentive to protect rural historic resources, including open farmland near historic sites and battlefields.
Reprinted by permission of the Public Policy Department of the National Trust