August 3, 2012
On Thursday, August 2, two former senior-level Administration officials penned an op-ed in The Hill urging Congress to reattach basic soil and wetland conservation requirements to federal crop insurance premium subsidies.
Dan Glickman, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton, and Jim Moseley, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture under President George W. Bush, write:
“Perhaps nowhere in farm policy is there a more proven track record of accomplishment than with the existing conservation compact between farmers and taxpayers. This compact — a provision of the 1985 farm bill called conservation compliance – sparked more than two decades of unprecedented progress in limiting soil erosion, cleaning up waterways and protecting wetlands.
“Farmers managing more than 140 million acres of highly erodible land have implemented practices that reduced the amount of soil washed into streams from ‘highly erodible’ lands by 40 percent. This accounts for more than 300 million tons of soil saved per year. Annualized since 1985, that is about 8 billion tons of soil saved on the farm, allowing it to remain a productive asset for growing our nation’s food and fiber, rather than washing into our rivers, lakes and streams, or blowing away with the wind. Moreover, between 1.5 and 3.3 million acres of wetlands have been saved under conservation compliance.”
Despite the success of the conservation compact, one major farm subsidy program, federal crop insurance, has been exempted from these conservation requirements since 1996. At that time, crop insurance was a relatively small program. Now, however, it is the largest farm program by far and it continues to grow as the centerpiece of the farm safety net. The 2012 Farm Bill that is currently being considered in Congress will accelerate the shift toward a crop insurance-based safety net by eliminating the direct payment program and expanding crop and revenue insurance support.
Fortunately, the Senate-passed version of the farm bill incorporated a bipartisan amendment that reattaches conservation requirements to crop insurance premium subsidies. The House version of the bill does not.
Secretary Glickman and Deputy Secretary Moseley continue, “Congress is moving toward reform of the farm safety net, increasing the role that federal crop insurance plays[…] Congress must bring all income support programs under the conservation compliance umbrella, including eligibility for crop and revenue insurance premium subsidies[…] Failure to align crop insurance with conservation compliance could allow huge numbers of conservation plans to lapse as the crop insurance becomes the heart of the farm safety net, and as the vagaries of extreme weather and volatile prices may encourage additional plantings of crops on highly erodible lands, thus potentially undoing the benefits achieved in the past.”
Moving forward toward House floor consideration of the farm bill and toward conference between the House and Senate, it is imperative that the House and Senate work together to close this loophole and reattach soil and wetlands conservation requirements to federal crop insurance premium subsidies.