Many issues surrounding conservation are decided at the time of farm bill renewal.
Working lands conservation programs in the farm bill offer an important opportunity for farmers and ranchers to increase stewardship on their land without impacting their bottom lines. For example, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program support farmers in implementing new conservation practices, and the Conservation Reserve Program offers valuable options for enrolling marginally productive lands.
In addition to these existing programs, farmers and ranchers would also benefit from a farm bill that strengthens the link between crop insurance and conservation. For example, to qualify for crop insurance, farmers are required to follow “good farming practices,” but these do not include USDA-approved conservation activities. This uncertainty can be a disincentive for farmers to adopt conservation practices.
We applaud legislators who have proposed bills that would support conservation, and we urge legislators to include these proposals in the final farm bill. For example, Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and others, recently introduced the Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work (GROW) Act, which contains many proposals to strengthen our working lands programs for the benefit of farmers and ranchers. Another bill, the Strengthening Our Investment in Land Stewardship (SOILS) Act contains similar provisions, introduced by Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN).
The Crop Insurance Modernization Act, introduced by Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN), contains proposals to strengthen conservation within crop insurance, such as including conservation practices under the “good farming practices” of crop insurance.
Finally, the American Prairies Conservation Act of 2017, introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and others, extends protections for native grasslands to the whole country.
We urge Congress to pass a farm bill that has strong support for conservation, before the current farm bill expires on Sept. 30. For a complete description of farm bill policies supported by the Center for Rural Affairs, visit http://www.cfra.org/publications/2018FarmBillPlatform.
Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.