June 1, 2012
On Thursday, May 31, Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Tim Walz (D-MN) introduced bipartisan legislation that would protect our nation’s remaining native prairies and prime grasslands.
The Protect Our Prairies Act aims to enact a nationwide “Sodsaver” provision that will tighten farm subsidy program rules to diminish the taxpayer-funded incentive to destroy critical grassland resources.
The bill will help ensure that taxpayer dollars do not subsidize the destruction of native grass and prairie lands. These lands are disappearing at a rapid rate, and protecting them provides ranching opportunities and economic, environmental, and recreational benefits to rural communities.
The Protect Our Prairies Act will preserve grasslands by prohibiting commodity payments on newly broken native sod, and by reducing federal subsidies for crop and revenue insurance by 50 percentage points on those acres.
The bill also includes two important provisions that prevent gaming of the system to increase revenue insurance coverage at the expense of taxpayers and the environment. One keeps a producer’s newly broken sod isolated from other crop acres when calculating insurable yields. The other requires the operator to take a percentage of the county average yield until being able to show a multi-year yield history.
The bill mirrors the amendment filed by Senators Thune (R-SD), Brown (D-OH), and Johanns (R-NE), and included in the Senate committee-passed Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that provision would save taxpayers $194 million over ten years.
“South Dakota farmers already strike a healthy balance between agriculture production and conservation, and this legislation helps them continue that trend,” said Representative Noem. “It’s just common sense to reduce crop insurance assistance for less productive land that will save taxpayers money and help preserve critical habitat for pheasants, ducks, and other game species that help support South Dakota’s hunting industry. I look forward to working with my colleagues to include this legislation into the House version of the Farm Bill.”
“This legislation is a win-win. It will save taxpayer dollars and conserve critical wildlife habitat while allowing farmers to manage their lands as they see fit,” said Representative Walz. “By working together and promoting common sense conservation practices we can protect critical wildlife habitat, support our farmers, and support the hunting and fishing industry that is an integral part of our nation’s economy.”
“This bill is on target,” said Tom Nuessmeier, a farmer from the St. Peter, MN, area and a member of the Land Stewardship Project’s steering committee. “We should not be providing federal incentives to break out fragile lands or native prairie for intensive commodity production. I’m seeing increased rates of soil erosion even on well-managed, productive farmland. Incentives that enable crop production and soil loss on fragile lands and native prairie are a big step backward for farmland conservation and agricultural productivity. I’m encouraged that this bill starts to address these problems.”
NSAC applauds Representatives Noem and Walz for their leadership in preserving grazing land, hunting opportunities, and critical natural resources through the Protect Our Prairies Act. We strongly urge the House Agriculture Committee to include this provision in the 2012 Farm Bill.