House Farm Bill Needs Critical Improvements for Soil, Water and Wildlife

“Committee missed important opportunities to save taxpayer dollars through commonsense conservation measures.”

05-16-2013 // Julie Sibbing

Late last evening, the House Committee on Agriculture passed its version of the 2013 farm bill.

Cuontry road with silo

“We commend Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) for crafting a bipartisan reauthorization of the farm bill,” said Julie Sibbing, director of Agriculture and Forestry Programs, National Wildlife Federation. “While we appreciate the difficult task of drafting a bill to achieve deficit reductions, the committee missed important opportunities to save taxpayer dollars through commonsense conservation measures for soil, water and wildlife.” 

Notably absent in the House Committee bill was a provision included in the Senate committee bill that would link soil and wetlands protection to crop insurance premium subsidies. Major agricultural and conservation groups recently joined with Senate lawmakers to support reasonable soil and wetland protection requirements crafted to work better for producers.

“We are very disappointed that Chairman Lucas chose to leave out this important provision supported by a broad coalition of conservation, agricultural and crop insurance interests,” Sibbing said. “Failure to link these longstanding requirements to crop insurance premium subsidies could destroy more than a million wetlands in the Northern Great Plains, putting at risk North America’s most important waterfowl breeding habitat.”

Furthermore, the House bill included a weak, geographically limited version of Sodsaver, which protects native grasslands by limiting federal subsidies for producers who convert previously unplowed prairie lands. The House version of Sodsaver is unfairly limited to parts of 5 states in the Northern Great Plains.

“We need to stop senselessly destroying what’s left of America’s remaining native grasslands,” Sibbing added. “We thank Representatives Noem (R-SD) and Walz (D-MN) for introducing the ‘Protect our Prairies Act’ and urge it to be included in the final farm bill.”

Other attempts to improve the farm bill for wildlife were also suppressed. Representative Ann Kuster (D-NH) offered and withdrew two amendments to maintain adequate investments for wildlife practices within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). “We commend Representative Kuster for strongly supporting wildlife conservation in the farm bill, and regret that lack of support from House Committee leadership, which forced her to withdraw amendments that would help farmers and ranchers create and enhance wildlife habitat on working lands.”

While it is very important that a five-year farm bill passes this year, critical improvements are needed when the House version comes up for a full floor vote, including:

  • sensible requirements for farmers to refrain from draining wetlands and practice conservation on highly erodible land in exchange for taxpayer subsidies,
  • a national Sodsaver provision to protect native prairies, and
  • adequate levels of funding to help farmers and ranchers protect wildlife.
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