The Federal Farm Bill is working its way through Congress this summer, and conservation programs included in it are posed to suffer. Renewed every five years, the bill has greater impact on the nation’s land and water than any other single piece of legislation.
Varied conservation programs within the Farm Bill amount to six billion dollars a year, but the senate bill recently passed has reduced that figure by consolidating many of the programs. One requirement that farmers currently obtain additional pesticide application permits under the Clean Water Act would be eliminated in the pending bill. The house bill holds the potential for more draconian measures for the conservation programs.
The heavily taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance programs in the Farm Bill continue to loom large. They guarantee a certain price for crops, regardless of the weather patterns, so taxpayers now bear a large part of the risk. In Minnesota, almost $100 million in 2011 was subsidized by taxpayers for farmers. More evidence is coming forth that subsidized crop insurance payments are causing farmland prices to go up too.
Since 1996, the Farm Bill has allowed farmers to receive subsidized crop insurance without having to comply with needed conservation practices on their land. This has allowed some native prairie and marginal farmland to go under the plow and lose their natural conservation benefits. There seems to be some agreement in Congress this year to now require conservation compliance for farmers that receive crop insurance payments. It only seems right.
A recent bipartisan poll indicated that 86 percent of farmers want to maintain or increase the conservation programs of the Farm Bill. Innovative technologies exist that are proven to reduce the amount of fertilizers for greater soybean yields, and to predict with accuracy evapotranspiration rates to reduce their water use and increase their yields. However, many farmers aren’t aware of new practices and waste money on buying fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that continue to pollute the environment and harm the earth’s natural systems that farmers should depend on.
Its time that the Federal Farm Bill must promote these innovative conservation practices and provide outreach to farmers so that – regardless of declining budget woes – better targeted conservation does occur on the nation’s landscape.