Vital Improvements Needed In Farm Bill Legislation

Measure should be amended to better safeguard natural resources

04-23-2012 // Julie Sibbing
Cuontry road with silo

The National Wildlife Federation commends the efforts of Senators Debbie Stabenow and Pat Roberts to craft a bipartisan reauthorization of the farm bill and pass it this year. At a time when polarized politics is preventing progress on most legislative fronts, such cooperation and determination is admirable.

At this point in the process, however, vital improvements are needed before the farm bill can meet the critical test of whether wildlife will be better off if it is enacted. The Stabenow-Roberts bill does include some solid building blocks to provide this foundation:

  • The $6 billion in cuts to conservation are substantial, and a large portion comes from cutting the Conservation Reserve Program. Given the fiscal climate, these reductions could have been far worse. The bill’s revised conservation title seeks to minimize the effects of these cuts.
  • The addition of a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program creates a competitive, merit-based process to target conservation funding in areas of greatest need.  As a result, resources can be targeted to reduce pollution in America’s Great Waters, like the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

The National Wildlife Federation remains troubled, however, by the lack of eligibility requirements on risk management tools in the farm bill, which could result in greatly increased soil erosion, wetlands drainage and destruction of native grasslands.  This legislation proposes to eliminate direct payments and instead support farmers primarily with a number of generous risk management tools. These items range from a variety of so-called “shallow loss” programs in the commodity title to an expanded crop insurance title.

The National Wildlife Federation requested a “Sodsaver” provision be added to the farm bill in order to end crop insurance premium subsidies and other federal benefits for bringing virgin grasslands into production. These areas are often marginally productive for agriculture, but enormously valuable for wildlife. They are also much less likely to be farmed without subsidized insurance.  The National Wildlife Federation also requested two eligibility requirements that apply to all other farm program benefits be extended to premium subsidies for crop insurance since it is the largest benefit most farmers receive. First, those farming highly erodible land must have a plan to control erosion. Second, producers must refrain from draining wetlands on their properties. The National Wildlife Federation looks forward to working with Senators Stabenow, Roberts and members of the Agriculture Committee and the Senate to ensure that these measures are included in any final farm bill.

The National Wildlife Federation supports a reasonable safety net for farmers, and also believes strongly that with federal subsidies comes a fundamental responsibility to ensure lands are managed properly to ensure benefits for wildlife, for the health of wetlands, lakes, rivers and streams and for the benefit of hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

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