2012 Conservation Policy Priority:
Improving Agricultural Conservation
Agriculture is the dominant use of private land in America. As a result, farming practices and agriculture policy are important to every American because these practices and policies directly affect water quality, habitat for fish and wildlife, soil conservation, and other natural resources. For generations, federal legislation known as the Farm Bill has determined the types of payments and subsidies taxpayers will provide to support domestic production and encourage resource conservation in agriculture. Once more up for renewal in 2012, the Farm Bill is the single most influential piece of legislation for our nation’s private lands.
Current federal deficits make seeking major new funding for agricultural conservation incentives difficult, while at the same time major crops are enjoying virtually unprecedented high market prices. Given these conditions, the 2012 Farm Bill process must recognize and re-prioritize the existing and logical covenant between taxpayers and producers known as conservation compliance. Conservation compliance is a collection of specific provisions established in the 1985 Farm Bill that require recipients of federal farm subsidies to protect wetlands and prevent soil loss and sedimentation. Failure to meet compliance requirements results in the withholding of subsidies that otherwise would be paid to a producer.
However, existing Farm Bill production subsidies subject to compliance requirements subsidize crops at target price levels, and those price triggers are now consistently far below prevailing market prices. Therefore, these production subsidies are not being paid. Furthermore, federal crop insurance provided through taxpayer-subsidized premiums is the one form of Farm Bill subsidy that is exempt from compliance requirements. As a result, federal crop insurance policies insuring revenue and yield have become the single dominant form of Farm Bill payment to producers. Subsequently, with high prices encouraging farmers to plant more crops, and subsidized insurance artificially lowering risk for expanding production by ensuring a high price, the nation’s remaining native habitat that has never been farmed is facing rampant conversion to crop production.
Our priorities for the 2012 Farm Bill meet these challenges by, first, championing “Sodsaver” legislation that makes land without a prior cropping history ineligible for federal crop insurance subsidies. Second, the League is leading the effort to reform Farm Bill policies by again making federal crop insurance subsidies subject to conservation compliance safeguards. These policy priorities require no cost to taxpayers, and in fact, can result only in saving federal dollars, and they place no added burden on private landowners. All landowners are free to do as they choose with their land, but they would no longer be entitled to taxpayer dollars for eliminating native habitat, converting wetlands, or creating excessive soil erosion.
Return to Conservation Policy Priorities 2012.