Tag Archive | "Farm Bill"

New Hope for Aquatic Wildlife

Farmers need fertilizer to raise crops, but those fertilizers often end up in streams and rivers, causing pollution problems that affect wildlife.  However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports simple and profitable fertilizer management practices (soil testing and plant tissue testing) that researchers find reduce nitrogen fertilizer use for corn by a whopping 50 percent, as well as stream buffer practices that intercept nutrients as they leave cropland.  The list of environmental problems that benefit from the above two practices include restoring hundreds of listed and proposed aquatic species in certain eastern rivers, restoring sea grasses in coastal estuaries, reducing greenhouse gases, reducing dead zones,  protecting drinking water, and more.  For wildlife, increased adoption of fertilizer management practices offers a simple remedy which could be targeted to restore aquatic species and estuaries.

A large portion of the threatened and endangered species in the U.S. are aquatic species found primarily in certain, eastern streams and rivers.  Sediment is the most pervasive threat, but agricultural nutrients are identified as another major cause of these aquatic species’ decline, especially for mussels.

Wildlife in nearby estuaries also benefit from reducing agricultural nutrients.  Sea grasses that covered river bottoms throughout the Chesapeake Bay estuary supported tens of thousands of wintering canvasback ducks and other wildlife.  Nutrient pollution, largely from agricultural fertilizers, wiped out all but modest remnants of the Bay’s sea grasses by shading them with algae blooms.  The same nutrient driven, massive destruction of sea grass habitat and loss of sea grass dependent wildlife occurs in the Gulf of Mexico.  Fortunately, in a few coastal rivers where past programs successfully removed the nutrients, substantial sea grass recovery is underway, so we know that effective nutrient remedies can restore the sea grass communities.

Getting a fourth of corn farmers to adopt fertilizer management practices scored a major victory for past Farm Bill conservation programs, for USDA, and for the university scientists that developed the soil tests and plant tissue tests.  Yet, the failure to attract more of the other three fourths of farmers must be regarded as a missed opportunity.  USDA’s Environment Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a bit stingy, offering only a fixed portion of costs for the above fertilizer management practices, just as it does for other, much less beneficial, conservation practices.

USDA could set a national goal, say for 50% or 60% adoption, and considerably increase incentive payments for soil testing and plant tissue testing to reach that enrollment goal. These tests work by helping farmers know how much nutrient is already in the soil — leftover from last year’s fertilizer, from livestock manure applications to the field, or from crops, like soybeans, that add nitrogen to the soil.  No one makes farmers pay attention to the soil or tissue test results.  The 50% reduction in fertilizer use happens because farmers know that their crops do not need as much fertilizer, as test results help farmers recognize and take credit for nutrients already in the soil.  Cities and industry spent billions of dollars treating waste to reduce nutrients in water.  With such easy and sensible fertilizer management practices available, agriculture could make a huge contribution to restoring aquatic species in eastern rivers, as well as restoring sea grass dependent wildlife in eastern estuaries.

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Grassland Conversions Threaten Lesser Prairie Chicken

Grassland Conversions Threaten Lesser Prairie Chicken

LPC Habitat conversion map

Lesser prairie chicken habitat on converted acres. Copyright Environmental Working Group.

The lesser prairie chicken, one of our nation’s iconic grassland birds known for its unique breeding behavior, is also one of our most at-risk species. A new report released by Defenders of Wildlife and Environmental Working Group shows that increased crop insurance subsidies are threatening to convert even more of the grasslands that these birds need to survive.

To read more about lesser prairie chickens and farm subsidies, see our fact sheet.

Lesser prairie chickens rely on a diversity of grassland habitats, including short- and mid-height grasses and forbs together with shrubs to provide cover. Loss of this diverse habitat is one of the biggest threats to the lesser prairie chicken’s continued survival.  As a result, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided in 1998 that the species warranted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  Unless the situation improves for the prairie chicken, it may become federally protected by next fall as part of the Service’s six-year plan to issue final listing decisions for over 250 candidate species.

Based on our report, “Plowed Under: How Crop Subsidies Contribute to Massive Habitat Losses,” more than 1.5 million acres of habitat have been converted to cropland in counties where the lesser prairie chicken is found between 2008 and 2011. This is despite investments by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In FY11, NRCS spent $11 million on improving land management and increasing and enhancing lesser prairie chicken habitat on 458,000 acres. However successful these activities are, even these investments won’t be enough to stem the loss of lesser prairie chicken habitat given the current rate of conversion.

Although the fate of the 2012 Farm Bill is currently up in the air, one thing is certain: increasing crop insurance subsidies without requiring basic environmental protections creates incentives for farmers to plow up more grassland and wetlands. The Senate passed a bi-partisan amendment to its Farm Bill that attaches basic environmental requirements to crop insurance subsidies. To protect the lesser prairie chicken and our nation’s other iconic wildlife, conservation compliance must be included in any Farm Bill Congress passes in 2012.

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Crop Insurance and Wildlife: Swift Fox at Risk

Crop Insurance and Wildlife: Swift Fox at Risk

 

Map showing acres converted to cropland

Swift fox habitat on converted acres. Copyright Environmental Working Group.

Crop insurance subsidies are taking center stage during the 2012 Farm Bill debate, as drought hits farmers across the country and economists talk about $10-$15 billion in taxpayer insurance costs with some insurance recipients receiving more than $1 million in support. Direct payments are eliminated in both the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill and the House Committee on Agriculture’s bill and both versions of the bill expand crop insurance subsidies – a change that encourages farmers to plow up habitat that is valuable for species such as the swift fox.

To read more about swift fox and crop insurance, read our fact sheet.

Once abundant, swift fox now only inhabit about 60% of their former range. They rely on shortgrass and mixed-grass prairies of the Great Plains for prey and shelter. A majority of this habitat overlaps with and has been greatly impacted by cropland and other habitat conversions. Subsidies are a driving force behind this habitat loss – a report by Defenders of Wildlife and Environmental Working Group shows that crop insurance subsidies contributed to the loss of more than 900,000 acres of grassland, shrubland and wetland in parts of Colorado where the swift fox is found between 2008 and 2011.

In the past, farmers plowing up native grassland or draining wetlands would be denied certain subsidy payments, including direct payments, crop insurance, disaster payments and some farm loans. These programs, “sodsaver” and “swampbuster” respectively, became important tools in the fight to stem the loss of grasslands and wetlands and are part of “conservation compliance” requirements. The idea behind conservation compliance is that farmers receiving taxpayer support must take measures to protect environmental resources that provide valuable public benefits.

The 1996 Farm Bill removed crop insurance from the list of farm payment programs that are subject to compliance provisions. Conservation compliance has been proven to protect clean water, prevent soil erosion and preserve wildlife on millions of acres of America’s farmland. As a result of a bipartisan floor amendment, the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill reestablishes the link between conservation compliance provisions and crop insurance subsidies. Unfortunately the House Agriculture Committee bill fails to do so, compounding the threats that species like the swift fox and sage grouse are already facing from habitat loss.

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10 Steps Backwards for Wildlife in the House Ag Committee Farm Bill

10 Steps Backwards for Wildlife in the House Ag Committee Farm Bill

In the early hours of the morning on Thursday, July 12th the House Committee on Agriculture passed a Farm Bill that cuts conservation while expanding insurance and price support programs that will encourage habitat destruction on lands and wetlands poorly suited to produce food for America. Here are the ten most problematic provisions in the House Committee bill.

  1. Funding Cuts for Conservation: Conservation funding has been cut by more than $6 billion, with the steepest cuts to the Conservation Reserve Program, likely resulting in at least 5 million acres of grassland, stream buffers and wetland habitat coming out of the program and going under the plow.
  2. Dedicated Funding for Wildlife Eliminated: The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, a popular and effective program, is eliminated in both the Senate and House bills but the Senate creates opportunity for wildlife funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) with a minimum 5 percent of program funding going to wildlife.  The House makes this set aside for wildlife a 5 percent maximum, meaning that many farmers with wildlife projects will likely be turned away.
  3. More Expensive Crop Insurance Subsidies: Annual taxpayer subsidies to crop insurance companies and farmers’ insurance premiums have already gone up by more than $6 billion over the last decade.  The Agriculture Committee proposes another $9 billion increase which is structured in ways that make the taxpayer bear the risk while encouraging farmers to plow fragile lands that are poorly suited to food production.
  4. Conservation Compact between Farmers and Taxpayers Destroyed:Conservation compliance’ has been a deal between farmers and taxpayers for more than 25 years.  In exchange for public support, farmers agree to modest protections for soil, water and wildlife on approximately 500 million acres of farmland.  The House Agriculture Committee chose to ignore the Senate’s extension of this compact that recent polls show has the support of the majority of farmers themselves.
  5. Modest Habitat Protections Voted Down: A limited version of conservation compliance called ‘sodsaver’ was also rejected by the Agriculture Committee despite strong support from hunters and fishermen, environmentalists, the ethanol industry and National Farmers Union.  This provision would have made farmers who plow up wetlands or the less than 1 percent of virgin prairie remaining in America ineligible for crop insurance for just five years.  Even this moderate penalty failed to pass the Committee, despite evidence that compliance provisions have been successful  and provide a net economic benefit.
  6. Reduced Support for Organic Farming: The Committee tilts an already tilted playing field further toward industrial agriculture.  It eliminates dedicated support to help farmers use less pesticide and go organic by repealing the National Organic Certification Cost Share program, reduces funding for organic research and maintains barriers that impede organic farmers’ efforts to insure their crops.
  7. Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Zeroed Out: No support is provided for renewable energy, eliminating what were highly successful programs to help capture methane emissions from dairies and feedlots, energy audits, and other programs that have helped thousands of farms reduce energy bills and fossil fuel use and switch to renewable energy sources.
  8. No Oversight of Pesticide Application into Waterways: Section 10017 of the House farm bill axes all Clean Water Act protections for pesticides that are sprayed directly into waterways.  This would result in the direct application of pesticides into streams and rivers without any oversight, as the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) – the law under which pesticides are registered – does not require tracking of such pesticide applications.
  9. Blocks Protection of Endangered Species from Pesticides: Section 10016 of the House farm bill puts the interests of pesticide manufacturers ahead of the health of our wildlife and communities.  This section prescribes non-science based roadblocks and delays for measures recommended by federal wildlife experts to protect endangered species from pesticides.  This spells disaster for species already on the brink of extinction because of pesticides and other threats.
  10. Increased Logging in our National Forests: Section 8301 would give the Forest Service broad discretion to designate sweeping areas of our National Forests for expanded logging, roadbuilding and other development by exploiting the danger of wildfires and harmful pests.  Projects in these “critical areas” would be permitted to move forward with almost no environmental review or public involvement, and projects as large as 1,000 acres would not be required to have any environmental review at all. This provision would undercut public involvement and important environmental analysis that protects water and wildlife on our public lands.

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Shifting Farm Safety Net Threatens Conservation Investments

Shifting Farm Safety Net Threatens Conservation Investments

The Farm Bill has an entire title dedicated to conservation, and USDA, which implements the Farm Bill, dedicates tens of millions of dollars to helping restore and recover species like the sage grouse and red-cockaded woodpecker. But with the 2012 Farm Bill shifting farm subsidy support from direct payments to crop insurance, the farm safety net could work at cross purposes to conservation investments by encouraging farmers to plant on environmentally sensitive land.

To read more about conservation compliance and crop insurance subsidies, see our fact sheet.

Between 1982 and 2003, the U.S. lost 25 million acres of grassland, most of which was converted to cropland. Subsidies to farmers are an important factor driving this land use change because subsidies reduce the financial risks farmers face and government payments can make farming marginal land profitable. A recent USDA report found that certain farm subsidies (crop insurance, marketing loans and disaster assistance payments) increased the conversion of habitat by 2.3 million acres in just a portion of the Northern Plains and with crop prices at record highs, between 1.5 million and 3.3 million acres of wetlands are at risk of conversion. It’s not only that insurance subsidy payments contribute to grassland and wetland conversion but that they contribute to this conversion on some of the most vulnerable land.

We have the tool to decrease these habitat losses – conservation compliance. The idea behind conservation compliance is simple: farmers receiving taxpayer support must take measures to protect environmental resources that provide valuable public benefits. That means not planting on native grassland or draining wetlands if they receive farm subsidies.

Conservation compliance has been part of direct payments since 1985 but was de-linked from crop insurance subsidies in 1996. As farm subsidies shift from direct payments to crop insurance in the 2012 Farm Bill, it is time to re-link full conservation compliance measures to crop insurance. With a bipartisan floor amendment, the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill does just that and now the House needs to follow suit.

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House Farm Bill: Continued Subsidies at the Cost of Wildlife

House Farm Bill: Continued Subsidies at the Cost of Wildlife

America’s wildlife benefit from what has been more than $5 billion in annual conservation support through the Farm Bill, but these investments in our natural heritage are threatened by crop insurance subsidies from the same bill that encourage farmers to plow grassland, wetland and forest. While the Senate’s version of the 2012 Farm Bill contains an amendment that requires farmers receiving crop insurance subsidies to take basic conservation measures to protect soil, water and wildlife (provisions known as “conservation compliance”), the draft House Farm Bill does not include conservation compliance. Failure to link conservation compliance to crop insurance subsidies could have major impacts on species like sage grouse.Map of sage grouse range and agricultural expansion

Sage grouse are dependent on sage brush habitat for nesting and food sources and much of this sage brush habitat overlaps with farmland in the western U.S. –  31 percent of sage grouse range is privately owned.

New analysis from the Environmental Working Group shows that increased crop production is leading to grassland (and wetland) loss in parts of the sage grouse range. More than half a million acres of habitat has been plowed under in just three years.

Conservation compliance has been proven to protect clean water, prevent soil erosion and preserve wildlife on millions of acres of America’s farmland. In order to protect vital habitat for sage grouse and other species that depend on grasslands and wetlands, the House should take similar action to the Senate and add conservation compliance requirements back into crop insurance subsidies as the bill moves through the chamber later this week.

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Vanishing Prairies and Vanishing Protections

Vanishing Prairies and Vanishing Protections

The “Protect our Prairies Act,” offered by Representatives Noem and Walz aims to protect our rapidly disappearing prairies. This protection is urgently needed because grassland loss rates of 10% to 15% recorded in key areas of the prairie pothole region from 2008 to 2011 imply a loss of 50% to 75% of this critical resource within 15 years. Unfortunately, proposed protections offer only a small fraction of protections provided in past farm legislation even though today’s need is vastly greater.

The amendment works by denying crop insurance and other subsidies for five years to farmers that plow up grasslands. Unfortunately, Economic Research Service (ERS) economists’ most recent estimate suggests that denying crop insurance and other program subsidies for five years could reduce grassland conversions in the Northern Plains only as much as 9% compared to conversions that would otherwise occur. Since the Protect our Prairies Act only reduces these crop insurance subsidies by half, and only for four years, reductions in the rate of prairie loss are likely to be less than 4%. This is a step in the right direction, but only a baby step.

A more aggressive approach would deny federal subsidies on sodbusted land permanently, as was the case in farm legislation prior to 2008. Doing so offers double the economic sanction compared to the version of sodsaver analyzed by ERS, and four times the sanction in “Protect our Prairies.” We advance from achieving “the less than 9% reduction” in grassland conversion for the ERS option, to achieving less than 18% reduction in the grassland loss.

According to ERS, high crop prices have become the major driver regarding loss of prairie, even though government subsidies to farmers in the region have greatly increased. Government payments fell to 20% of net farm income, while an earlier study found these payments were 53.7% of net farm income in the South Dakota of 1996-2001. Prices of major crops in the region have tripled.

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Budget Savings, Wildlife Benefits, and Family Farmer Benefits from Limiting Government Subsidies to the Largest Farms

Farm program subsidies, crop prices, and land values all tripled in the Dakotas in just 15 years, as has the loss of prairie pothole grassland.  Eastern North Dakota lost 10% to 15% of wetlands and grassland to crop use in just three years.  At this rate, most of the remaining grassland habitat in this major nesting region for ducks and shorebirds will be gone in just 15 years.

This is not a good time to abandon 25 years of protection for wetlands and grasslands, but crucial protections will vanish unless the Senate amends the farm bill recently passed by the Senate Agricultural Committee.  Fortunately, a budget smart farm bill amendment by Senators Toomey and Shaheen aims to save billions of tax dollars by limiting federal crop insurance subsidies to the largest farmers to $40,000 per farm.  Since the larger farmers own the great majority of the land, these subsidy limits also considerably reduce major farm program drivers for prairie grassland and wetland conversion.

Limiting crop insurance subsidies to $40,000 per farm primarily aims to reduce the federal budget deficit.  This works because subsidy limits especially affect the largest 10% of crop farms, who enjoy 75% of the program payments.  These giant farming operations historically increase their subsidies by adding more cropland.  They expand 1) by buying other farms, 2) by renting, and 3) by plowing up prairie pothole grassland.  But farmers large enough to already reach the proposed $40,000 payment limit no-longer will increase their subsidy by increasing cropland area.  Today’s more than 90 percent of farms, and all small farms, will not be directly affected by the proposed subsidy limits because their government subsidies are less than $40,000.  They own a very small portion of the crop land in the U.S., even though they still make up the vast majority of farms.  Subsidy limits actually help them compete.

Although the farm bill under consideration in the Senate (S3240) virtually eliminates compliance and swampbuster protection, Senator Cardin introduced a Senate amendment (2219) to re-introduce these important protections which have been part of farm programs for 25 years.  We think that this amendment is crucial, but its focus is soil conservation and wetland protection, not grasslands.  The $40,000 per farm limits on crop insurance subsidies, which Senators Toomey and Shaheen introduced in another amendment, reduces program pressures to plow up more prairie grassland and drain wetlands.

For over three decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has cautioned that farm subsidies could tilt the playing field toward the largest farmers, who capture so much of the subsidies, and away from more modest, family farms.  Meaningful payment limits address these uneven playing field problems, as well as the above budget and wildlife problems.

Meaningful subsidy limits address perverse incentives to expand cropland acreage, whether that expansion occurs by buying up neighboring farms or by busting out more prairie pothole grassland and draining wetlands.  The Senate has an opportunity simultaneously to achieve substantial budget savings, to provide major wildlife benefits, and to better serve family farms.

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Committees Move Forward with Plans to Pass a Farm Bill in 2012

Committees Move Forward with Plans to Pass a Farm Bill in 2012

Senate Agricultural Committee Chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow (D – MI) announced last week that the Senate and House agricultural committees would work to pass a new Farm Bill in 2012, with the goal of having draft legislation introduced by spring of next year. This may prove to be an ambitious schedule and time will only tell what the next Farm Bill holds for conservation. Going on the few clues we have, we can expect less money and more consolidation and streamlining of some of the most important programs for conservation.

In this fiscal climate, we want lawmakers to use this opportunity to do more with less – by consolidating and streamlining programs there is potential to get better conservation outcomes even as we have fewer resources to work with. Senator Lugar’s REFRESH Act takes this challenge, reducing the acres allotted to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and directing environmentally sensitive lands into a consolidated easement program. Although the House and Senate Agricultural Committees failed to release their plans to trim $23 billion from the Farm Bill, from what we know of the proposal, the Committees proposed a similar reduction in CRP, though based on the summary of the plan, the consolidated easement program is likely a bit different, focusing on agricultural and wetland easements, rather than the broad suite of conservation purposes under the REFRESH Act’s easement program.

It is difficult to say whether the changes proposed by Senator Lugar’s bill and the Ag committees will make it into the final Farm Bill. Chairwoman Stabenow, as well as other House and Senate Ag Committee members want the changes they proposed to the conservation title to be a part of the next Farm Bill.

There are a few principles that can ensure that consolidation and streamlining efforts do indeed make for more effective conservation. As the Committees build on their existing work and other members of Congress weigh in, any conservation program consolidation should focus on:

  • Greater flexibility for the Natural Resources Conservation Service to engage partners such as land trusts to fulfill program goals
  • Increasing the availability of technical assistance to landowners interested in implementing conservation easements or other practices on their land.
  • Reducing acreage in CRP and targeting highly sensitive land to longer term protection via conservation easements
  • Investing in conservation practices that improve producers’ conservation performance, instead of paying for practices that would have been adopted anyway.
  • Targeting practices, including land protection, towards areas and resource concerns of the highest priority.

We’ll be looking out for these principles as the Farm Bill debate starts up again 2012. Stay tuned.

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Fresh Ideas for the 2012 Farm Bill: The REFRESH Act

Fresh Ideas for the 2012 Farm Bill: The REFRESH Act

Senator Lugar’s (R-IN) recently introduced REFRESH Act makes some broad changes to the Farm Bill as we know it and gets it (mostly) right on two counts: conservation compliance and streamlining programs.

The REFRESH (Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger) Act was introduced in the Senate on October 5, 2011. Lugar’s Indiana colleague Marlin Stutzman (R) introduced the bill in the House. The reform-minded bill makes $40 billion in cuts to many of the major farm bill titles over the next 10 years. The cuts don’t come just from eliminating programs but from re-thinking some deeply entrenched agricultural policies and combining programs for greater efficiency.

Of the changes that the REFRESH Act (the Act) makes to current farm bill conservation provisions, two of those changes align with the conservation principles Defenders and 55 other organizations endorsed at the end of September. The first of those changes requires that participants in the bill’s revenue loss protection program (ARRM) comply with conservation measures such as swampbuster and sodbuster. This is a promising change noted in the bill summary but the language in the actual bill appears to be weaker than the summary suggests. The bill language limits ARRM payments for just the first five crop years on acreage that was planted by tilling native sod. While this is an important first step in re-establishing conservation compliance measures, the measure should be much stronger to ensure that producers receiving subsidies meet basic conservation requirements.

The second piece of the Act that matches the conservation principles mentioned above is conservation program consolidation. Lugar’s bill consolidates four easement programs into a program focused on protecting land for multiple conservation purposes. Working lands programs are similarly consolidated. This consolidation will make programs easier to access for landowners and will reduce the administrative burdens on USDA, meaning our conservation dollars will be spent more effectively. Part of the funding for these consolidations come from a reduction in the acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Savings from reductions in CRP are targeted towards enrolling land in the new easement program, as well as to providing technical assistance to landowners. These changes promote long-term conservation over short-term CRP contracts.

The conservation program reforms in the Act are not perfect. The changes would result in an 18% reduction in conservation program funding and targeting of priority resource concerns could be strengthened by providing more specifics and less reliance on the states.

Senator Lugar is known for introducing “sweeping reforms” to the farm bill that don’t pass but with budgetary concerns looming, Congress may actually have to take ideas found in the REFRESH Act seriously. And at first glance, at least some of these ideas seem like a good place to start.

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Conservation Principles for the Next Farm Bill

Conservation Principles for the Next Farm Bill

Cutting the federal deficit doesn’t mean that conservation should be on the chopping block. Fifty-six organizations from the across the country are saying the same thing when it comes to the 2012 Farm Bill. The groups, representing a wide variety of policy and advocacy organizations, released guiding conservation principles that Congress should use when drafting the next farm bill.

The set of principles focus on four key areas: maintaining baseline funding for conservation programs within the farm bill, enforcing and strengthening conservation compliance provisions, targeting conservation dollars and streamlining programs for maximum efficiency and results, and ensuring equitable access to these programs. Using these principles means that conservation funds will be used more wisely, resulting in greater environmental benefits without additional funding.

It is not just the 56 groups that think these principles should guide our agricultural policy. The 2011 Survey on Agriculture and the Environment suggests that a majority of Americans agree that agricultural policy should prioritize conservation, especially protecting soil and water quality. With the long-range vision that many of our current leaders seem to lack, the poll shows that Americans favor funding conservation practices today in order to keep costs down in the future. Instead of cutting conservation, people would rather see cuts come from subsidy programs for commodities and crop insurance. Let’s hope that Congress takes this to heart and uses the conservation principles released on Wednesday to find creative ways to continue to make conservation an important part of our nation’s agricultural policy.

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Farm Bill Prioritization Done Right

Farm Bill Prioritization Done Right

The federal Farm Bill is the largest single source of private land environmental funding in America, with a baseline of more than $6 billion in funding a year directed to a suite of conservation programs. However, many programs have long been plagued by the parochial desire of many Members of Congress to have a large and predictable flow of this money go to their District. Thus, many programs work under an allocation formula through which USDA gives a set amount of money to each state based on criteria like farmland area, state population and other demographic factors.

The alternative is to allocate money based on the highest and best environmental outcomes that can be achieved with those dollars – so this week’s announcement that USDA will allocate $100 million to wetland restoration and protection to benefit the Florida Everglades is great news. This is on top of $89 million already spent in this area in the last 2 years.

Under NRCS’ Chief Dave White, USDA is showing greater and greater interest in using conservation dollars for high priority projects. When Congress passes a new Farm Bill, conservation programs need additional improvements to make it even clearer that dollars should increasingly be allocated to high priority problems like Everglades restoration.

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