The Farm Bill affects all of us more than we realize. It’s actually a clean water, public health, and climate-resiliency bill. And it represents the largest investment in private land conservation in this country.
Congress must seize the opportunity to craft a better bill that harnesses the incredible potential of farms and ranches covering about 900 million acres to:
- Protect drinking water from nitrate and other pollutants
- Improve the quality of food in the grocery store
- Combat climate change.
As Congress considers this legislation in 2023, the Izaak Walton League of America proposes important improvements to the Farm Bill.
Addressing the Problems
Agriculture is the top source of polluted runoff – water that washes pesticides, excess nutrients and manure into our streams, lakes, and groundwater that supply our drinking water.
- Synthetic nitrogen used in fertilizers runs off fields to form nitrate and pollutes drinking water. Prolonged exposure to nitrate, even at levels lower than federal limits, increases risk of colorectal cancer, thyroid disease, and birth defects like spina bifida.
- Removing nitrate from public water supplies is expensive and 43 million Americans drink water from untreated private wells.
At least half of the organic matter that keeps soils healthy has been lost since colonial times and America is losing topsoil 10 times faster than it can be replaced.
- By losing topsoil at current rates of about 1 percent every year, soil loss could threaten our ability to grow enough food to feed an expanding world population soon.
- Poor soil health has led to American produce being 50-70 percent less nutritious it was early in the 20th century.
The U.S. is missing opportunities to address climate change by building soil health and protecting and restoring wetlands and native grasslands, while the window for action is narrowing.
- Healthy soils on an acre of farmed cropland can remove about a ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year. But few of America’s 400 million acres of cropland have adequate soil health practices in place to maximize carbon sequestration and help fight climate change.
- Wetlands and grasslands are some of the most powerful carbon sinks on Earth, as well as providing essential habitat for wildlife, flood protections, and affordable grazing. But wetlands and grasslands continue to be converted to production agriculture at unsustainable rates.
What Must Change
The scale, scope, and accelerating nature of the problems we must confront demand we accelerate implementation of the most effective conservation practices across tens of millions of acres. Proven Farm Bill conservation programs have produced successful results, but we must maximize the benefits they can provide to meet this moment.
To deliver the outcomes Americans deserve, the Farm Bill needs to prioritize soil health. Past failures to improve soil health have been the weak link in improving effectiveness of conservation on the agricultural landscape.
That is why the League’s top priority is putting soil health at the center of agriculture policy, most importantly, in the 2023 Farm Bill.
A New Foundation for Conservation
The 2023 Farm Bill represents a tremendous opportunity to keep harmful chemicals out of our drinking water, reduce soil erosion, grow healthier food, protect communities from flooding, support fish and wildlife, and fight climate change.
We can accomplish all of these if we:
- Put soil health at the center of America’s agriculture policy.
- Increase long-term investment in the suite of Farm Bill conservation programs that have proven records of success.
- Focus conservation dollars on programs that leverage non-federal funds, like the League’s proposed State and Tribal Soil Health Grant Program.
Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League fights for clean air and water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat and conservation of our natural resources for future generations. The League plays a unique role in supporting community-based conservation and volunteer science and has a long legacy of shaping sound national policy. See www.iwla.org.
Michael Reinemer, Director of Communications, email@example.com, 301-548-0105 ext. 220
Jared Mott, Conservation Director, firstname.lastname@example.org