NWF's Farm Bill Priorities

After years of delays, a new farm bill passed on February 4th, 2014. Thanks to the hard work of the conservation community, the final bill contained many hard-won compromises and is overall a beneficial bill to wildlife. National Wildlife Federation supported the 2014 farm bill, but our work is not done.

NWF will continue our work to ensure that land, water, and wildlife benefit from farm bill programs as the 2014 farm bill is implemented, and our priority will be to promote wildlife abundance and diversity - not policies that degrade habitat or undermine past progress made through conservation efforts.

NWF's top priorities for implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill were:

  • Adopt a Sodsaver provision to protect native habitat,
  • Re-link conservation compliance to crop insurance, and
  • Maintain funding for conservation.

See how the 2014 Farm Bill measured up to NWF's priorities for wildlife by reading our full analysis.

Adopt a Sodsaver provision to protect native habitat

Sodaver is a provision that will helps to protect America's last remaining native prairies by limiting subsidies on land that is converted to cropland from previously unplowed and unplanted grasslands. The 2014 Farm Bill does include a Sodsaver provision, but it is limited to only six states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska.  These states have critically important wildlife habitat, and in the past few years, have lost grasslands at alarming rates.

Bobolink

High crop prices and federally-subsidized crop insurance encourage plowing native grassland and forestlands that have previously never been plowed. Many birds, such as the bobolink, depend on native grasslands for nesting or food. Bringing this often-marginally productive land into production provides little benefit to tax payers, increases long-term costs due to erosion and nutrient loss, and ultimately leads to lower water quality, less capacity to reduce flooding, and the loss of valuable wildlife habitat.  

Sodsaver does not prohibit farmers from breaking out new land; it ensures that they do so at their own risk, and not at the expense of taxpayers. Most of the land that is being converted from native ecosystems to cropland is marginal, highly erodible, and prone to flooding. If the risk of growing crops on this land was not underwritten by taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance and disaster assistance programs, these sensitive lands probably would not be farmed.

See how the 2014 Farm Bill measured up to NWF's priorities for wildlife by reading our full analysis.

Re-link conservation compliance to crop insurance premium subsidies

The huge success story of the 2014 Farm Bill is a key conservation provision that requires farmers to practice commonsense soil and wetland conservation measures  on vulnerable lands in exchange for receiving crop insurance premium subsidies. Its inclusion in the farm bill is a major conservation victory that will prevent the destruction of millions of acres of wetlands and erosion of countless tons of soil.

Conservation compliance includes two common-sense eligibility requirements to receive taxpayer-funded farm bill support - Swampbuster and Sodbuster. Swampbuster prevents farmers who drain wetlands, and Sodbuster, those who 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.

Rye Cover Crop

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.

Compliance is not a hardship for farmers because it is easy to implement conservation plans and beneficial for the land and the farmer in the long run. For highly erodible land, there are a number of simple practices that meet conservation compliance:

  • No till
  • Cover crops
  • Rotations with perennial crops

These practices provide economic returns to farmers by making the land more productive. Most farmers are used to abiding by these conditions as they have been in place since 1985. It is only because the agricultural support system is shifting, from direct payments to greater subsidies for crop insurance, that action is needed to ensure these eligibility requirements continue to apply.

Over the last 15 years, Congress has increased the subsidy amounts on crop insurance, making it the largest subsidy to farmers. Crop insurance subsidies are estimated to cost taxpayers $90 billion over the next 10 years. Currently the federal government pays for 60 percent of the cost of crop insurance premiums (farmers pay the remaining percentage). It is only fair for landowners to protect the public from soil loss, nutrient pollution, and wetland loss in return for taxpayer support. Without conservation compliance, millions of acres of highly erodible land and wetlands that are not currently farmed could be placed into production with serious consequences on the public.

See how the 2014 Farm Bill measured up to NWF's priorities for wildlife by reading our full analysis.

Maintain funding for conservation in the Farm Bill

The 2014 farm bill provides $57.6 billion for conservation programs over the next 10 years. While the overall reduction in funding is disappointing, the bill was a good compromise in a tough budget climate. 

In addition to funding levels, the 2014 Farm Bill combined several existing farm bill conservation programs into a new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and added a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  Read our full analysis for more details on changes to the conservation title.

 

Eastern Meadowlark

Programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provide taxpayer benefits by improving soil, water and wildlife habitat, and are also popular with farmers. Yet, conservation funding has declined in recent years. In the 2008 Farm Bill the CRP took a cut of 7 million acres, which is having serious negative repercussions for wildlife on agricultural land that depend on the land for nesting habitat, such as the Eastern meadowlark. Another 8 million acre was cut in from the CRP in the 2014 Farm Bill. 

The USDA estimates that 75% of threatened and endangered species live on private land. Further cuts could lead to the listing of several species of wildlife under the Endangered Species Act and the decline of many wildlife species. It is critical to wildlife that the next farm bill does not take disproportionate cuts to conservation funding.

 

To learn more about the value of conservation, read our Economics of Conservation Factsheet

 

 

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