Sodsaver: Protecting Prairie and Producers

UPDATE 7/31/09: Congressional Agriculture Committee Chairmen ask USDA to protect grassland

House Chairman Collin Peterson (MN) and Senate Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) wrote Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in support of the Sodsaver goal of restricting crop insurance on newly broken land. This letter explains the importance of the nation’s remaining prairie, range and pastureland, and describes the unintended incentives in the existing Federal Crop Insurance Program that promote the conversion of these sensitive lands to crop production.

The Izaak Walton League of America greatly appreciates the effort of Rep. Peterson and Sen. Harkin in showing leadership on this important issue. In congratulating the Chairmen we join them in urging USDA Secretary Vilsack to take up the cause of protecting native grasslands by eliminating undue taxpayer-financed incentives to their destruction. Before even more acres are lost, the federal government should get out of the business of subsidizing the destruction of the American prairie.

Sodsaver coalitions sign-on letters: Broad-based coalitions sent letters to Prairie Pothole Region Governors in support of enacting Sodsaver:

What is Sodsaver?

The Sodsaver provision is a carefully constructed response to a clearly identified need. As cited by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), USDA's National Resources Inventory determined that the Nation's privately owned grassland decreased by almost 25 million acres between 1982 and 2003. And according to the GAO's September 10, 2007 report, “Farm program payments are an important factor in producers' decisions on whether to convert grassland to cropland…. Several economic studies have reached the same conclusion.”

This country's remaining grasslands, particularly those in the Prairie Pothole National Priority Area, are one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, and they are critical to the livelihoods of our ranching families. Enacting the Sodsaver provision in areas of the Prairie Pothole Region will defuse this threat.

The five states covered in the provision, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, and North and South Dakota still have areas of vulnerable native prairie. Sodsaver specifies that grassland without a prior cropping history will be ineligible for taxpayer-provided payments for purchasing crop insurance on converted grasslands. Also ineligible are non-insured crop disaster payments made on the very marginal lands that have not yet been converted. Still, under Sodsaver, landowners are not prohibited from breaking grassland, but federal payments would no longer provide incentives for doing so.

In addition to protecting precious prairie habitat, the "duck factory" for waterfowl, song birds, wildlife, and family livestock operations that rely on grasslands, the Sodsaver provision will produce real budget savings. The provision is the most welcome of Farm Bill policies in that it will have no cost for the states and instead will actually save taxpayer dollars.

Sodsaver functions for the benefit of all; the states need to participate in this new, important program:

  • In the five states a lot, and in some cases the vast majority, of native prairie has long been converted to crop production, leaving the least productive land for pasture and wildlife.
  • These remaining grasslands are among the planet’s most threatened ecosystems, and they are vital to the livelihoods of cow-calf operations and other grazing and grass-based producers.
  • Yet federal programs subsidize crop insurance and provide non-insured crop disaster payments on these fragile lands when converted to crops. This sends the message that no parcel is so poor that the federal bureaucracy won’t still ensure payback on the riskiest land.
  • The result is remaining prairie being destroyed with little benefit to food stocks and to the detriment of grazing livestock. Multi-generation ranch families can not compete for land when grassland conversion to program crops receives federal payments ensuring a positive income whether crops fail, thrive or anything in between.
  • Support for Sodsaver in the 2008 Farm Bill came from across the spectrum of conservation and agricultural interests, and received the full support of the White House.
  • A “Sodsaver” provision in place in these five states would defuse a real threat and save taxpayer dollars. Sodsaver simply says that land without a prior cropping history is ineligible for insurance and non-insured disaster payments. Landowners won’t be prohibited from breaking native grassland, but federal payments would no longer provide incentives for doing so.
  • Sodsaver is a policy that carries no cost to the states, and in fact, can only result in saving federal taxpayers’ dollars.

 

Questions? Please contact Brad Redlin, Agricultural Program Director, Izaak Walton League of America, bredlin@iwla.org, 651-649-1446 ext 13, mobile 651-270-0564

 
 
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