July 20, 2012
On Friday, July 20, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition joined with the National Wildlife Federation, American Farmland Trust, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to brief more than 30 House legislative aides on the importance of attaching basic conservation requirements to crop insurance subsidies. The briefing, entitled “Preserving soil and wetlands through the farm safety net: a briefing on highly erodible land and wetland conservation,” examined the need to re-link highly erodible land (HEL) and wetland conservation to crop insurance subsidies. This re-linkage is included in the recently passed Senate version of the farm bill; however, it is not included in the bill that the House Agriculture Committee passed last week.
Two farmers flew in to Washington D.C. from the Midwest for the briefing. Ray McCormick, a farmer from Indiana and President of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts noted that while federally subsidized crop insurance is clearly becoming the centerpiece of the farm safety net, it is the only major farm program that is not subject to soil and wetland conservation requirements. Mr. McCormick described the extent of soil loss from marginal lands across the country and made a personal appeal to congressional staffers to fix this problem in the House farm bill.
Following Mr. McCormick, Varel Bailey, a farmer in Cass County, Iowa and former chairman of the National Corn Growers Association explained that federally subsidized crop insurance drives agricultural production on marginal lands. According to Bailey, reattaching conservation compliance to crop insurance is the most effective way to ensure that highly erodible soils are not lost. Farmers would still be allowed to farm HEL, but would be required to implement a conservation plan to maintain soil quality, quantity, and productivity into the future.
Moving Forward Toward the 2012 Farm Bill
Relinking highly erodible land and wetland conservation requirements to crop insurance subsidies is a farm bill priority for NSAC. We are very pleased that the Senate version of the bill takes this step. Unfortunately, the House Agriculture Committee did not attach soil and wetland conservation to crop insurance subsidies in its draft version of the bill.
This common-sense change would level the playing field for farmers by renewing and updating our nation’s long-standing conservation compact. In polling on this issue over the years, wide majorities of farmers support the policy.
Basic conservation requirements were applied to crop insurance premium support through 1996, but the policy changed that year, with proponents of removing the requirements citing the need to get more farmers into the crop insurance program. With the vast majority of commodity producers now in the highly subsidized insurance program and with the movement of the farm safety net toward primary reliance on crop and revenue insurance, now is exactly the right time to modernize the conservation compact by making it relevant to the evolving nature of the safety net.
Moving forward through the farm bill process, we will work to ensure that taxpayer funds are not rewarding agricultural producers who are draining wetlands or farming highly erodible land without adequate conservation measures. This is a protection that is enormously important to farmers, the vast majority of whom are careful stewards of natural resources. This is a pro-farmer, pro-conservation, pro-safety net update to the conservation compact and must be part of a final farm bill deal we could support.