Groups Call on Senate Leaders to Support “Conservation Compliance” Amendment in Farm Bill

100 sportsmen, farming and conservation organizations voice support for Senator Cardin’s Soil and Wetlands Conservation Amendment

06-15-2012 // Aislinn Maestas
Pintail Ducks

One hundred organizations from across the country have sent a letter (pdf) to Congressional leaders urging them to support the Soil and Wetlands Conservation Amendment (S.A. 2219) introduced by Senator Cardin (D-MD) as part of the 2012 Farm Bill. The amendment aims to “renew the long-standing conservation compact with farmers by re-attaching basic soil and water conservation measures to premium subsidies for crop insurance.”

The hundred groups signed on to the letter include hunting, fishing, farming and conservation organizations, representing millions of Americans who care about protecting soil, wetlands and wildlife habitat.

“In exchange for a publicly funded safety net, farmers have for decades committed to adopt land management practices that have successfully reduced soil erosion and protected wetlands. By shifting subsidies away from direct payments and towards a strong crop insurance safety net, this new farm bill creates a loophole in the longstanding requirements that those who receive subsidies take some minimal steps to protect the public good. This amendment would help protect what we already have from being lost due to the changes in the safety net,” states the letter.

Senator Cardin’s amendment, which is co-sponsored by Senators Chambliss (R-GA), Lieberman (I-CT), and Franken (D-MN), would close this loophole in the bill, ensuring that “taxpayer funds are not rewarding agricultural producers who are draining wetlands or farming highly erodible land without conservation measures.”

“This amendment offers a common sense solution to a potentially destructive problem,” said Aviva Glaser, Legislative Representative from Agriculture Programs at the National Wildlife Federation. “Without it, this Farm Bill could result in the largest taxpayer subsidized destruction of wetlands since the policy was established in 1985.”    

Conservation compliance includes two common-sense eligibility requirements to receive taxpayer-funded farm bill support - Swampbuster and Sodbuster. The programs prevent farmers who drain wetlands or farm highly erodible lands without a conservation plan from qualifying for farm bill programs. These provisions are designed to protect us from greater wetland loss and degraded soil and water quality.

Conservation compliance does not take away anyone's freedom to farm on their own land; farmers are free to choose to drain wetlands or farm highly erodible land with no soil conservation measures. However, by doing so, they forfeit eligibility for federal benefits, since these activities harm the public good.

“Without these key protections,” states the letter, “the estimated $95 billion to be spent on crop insurance over the next ten years under this bill will subsidize damaging soil erosion that chokes our waterways, increase the cost of water treatment and dredging, and reduce the long term productivity of farmland. It will also allow for the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of valuable wetlands, resulting in increased downstream flooding, loss of wildlife habitat and decreased water quality."

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