Farmers and ranchers have an enormous impact on our natural environment: farmland, pasture, and rangeland account for nearly half of the landmass in the United States. Their operations and practices affect thousands of watersheds. How we farm and raise livestock can sustainably conserve – or seriously harm – our soil, streams, lakes and air quality.
Catholic Rural Life advocates the following:
- Support full funding for federal Conservation programs, particularly Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the organic initiative in the Environmental Quality Enhancement Program (EQIP). The benefits of these programs exceed public costs.
- Stop farm policies that reward overproduction and vast monocultural farm operations that do not abide by conservation requirements. The negative impacts to soil and water are a tremendous cost to the public good.
- Continue to institute prudent farm policies that will help protect and rebuild soil, provide clean water, sequester carbon, and supply a multitude of other conservation and environmental benefits.
Background on Conservation Programs
Since the 1980s, conservation requirements and assistance programs have played an ever-increasing role in federal policy under the farm bill. There now exists a very substantial set of program authorities and mandatory funding allocations for the Conservation Title of the farm bill.
Conservation programs administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) help farmers reduce soil erosion, enhance water supplies, improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and reduce damages caused by floods and other natural disasters.
Visit the NRCS website for more about conservation programs in the Farm Bill.
Basic conservation requirements to protect against soil erosion and wetland drainage have been a condition of receiving farm subsidies since 1985. This conservation “compliance” has dramatically reduced soil erosion on farmland and protected wetlands, keeping land productive and important natural resources intact.
Today, the biggest farm subsidy paid by U.S. taxpayers is for crop insurance. With this shift in the prominence of crop insurance and with proposed changes to the farm safety net that will accelerate this shift, compliance should be re-attached to crop insurance subsidies.
In addition, producers and land investors who convert valuable native prairie and prime grasslands to crop production should be ineligible for commodity and insurance subsidies through a new “Sodsaver” provision.
The 2012 Farm Bill should modernize compliance by:
• Reattaching basic conservation requirements to the receipt of federal crop insurance subsidies.
• Applying soil conservation requirements to all land receiving federal subsidies and eroding in an unsustainable manner.
• Enacting a nationwide “Sodsaver” (grasslands protection) provision.
Why It Matters
• Conservation compliance has protected the productivity of farmland by significantly decreasing soil erosion and protecting wetlands and sensitive lands.
• The majority of producers who participate in current crop insurance programs also comply with conservation compliance through farm programs.
• With the receipt of subsidies comes a responsibility to protect resources for future generations; most farmers agree, yet are placed at a competitive disadvantage when poor stewards are allowed to cut corners and reap the same public benefits.
• Conservation compliance saves the government millions of dollars in disaster and crop insurance payments, while protecting vital natural resources.