June 13, 2012
On Wednesday, June 13, more than 90 organizations from around the country delivered a letter to the Senate to urge Senators to support the Soil and Wetlands Conservation Amendment (S.A. 2219) introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and cosponsored by Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Al Franken (D-MN).
This bill would amend the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240), which is currently being considered by the Senate, by reattaching basic soil and water conservation measures to premium subsidies for crop insurance.
According to the letter, “In exchange for a publicly funded safety net, farmers have for decades committed to adopt land management practices that have successfully reduced soil erosion and protected wetlands. By shifting subsidies away from direct payments and towards a strong crop insurance safety net, this new farm bill creates a loophole in the longstanding requirements that those who receive subsidies take some minimal steps to protect the public good. This amendment would help protect what we already have from being lost due to the changes in the safety net.”
The letter continues, “The Soil and Wetlands Conservation Amendment closes that loophole and ensures that taxpayer funds are not rewarding agricultural producers who are draining wetlands or farming highly erodible land without conservation measures. Without these key protections, the estimated $95 billion to be spent on crop insurance over the next ten years under this bill will subsidize damaging soil erosion that chokes our waterways, increase the cost of water treatment and dredging, and reduce the long term productivity of farmland. It will also allow for the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of valuable wetlands, resulting in increased downstream flooding, loss of wildlife habitat and decreased water quality.”
Importantly, the letter points out that “these soil and wetland conservation measures would be linked only to the taxpayer-funded premium subsidy for insurance and would not affect the ability of farmers to purchase crop insurance. The amendment does not in any way affect indemnity payments in the case of a disaster. Additionally, the measures retain the good faith exemptions, graduated penalty, and one-year grace period provisions from current law, ensuring that farmers would not be penalized for natural disasters such as flooding. The amendment also provides that producers who would be subject to these basic conservation requirements for the first time due to this provision would be granted five years to develop and implement their conservation plan.”
In the coming days, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) will work with the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee to determine which amendments will come to the Senate floor for a vote. NSAC strongly urges Senate leadership to include the Soil and Wetlands Conservation Amendment (S.A. 2219) on this list of amendments. The amendment will save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and will ensure long-term farm productivity by protecting vital natural resources.
Visit the NSAC blog to read recent letters from former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture and Chiefs of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in support of reattaching highly erodible land and wetland conservation requirements to federal crop insurance subsidies.