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Unlikely Bedfellows Support Conservation Amendment

PHOTO: Soil and wetlands conservation would be linked to crop insurance subsidies under legislation supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and conservation groups. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith.
PHOTO: Soil and wetlands conservation would be linked to crop insurance subsidies under legislation supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and conservation groups. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith.
June 18, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas - The U.S. House is expected to take up the next national farm bill this week. There are big changes from the last five-year farm bill, which expired last year, as funding for many programs is being scaled back or eliminated, so stretching every dollar has become the focus of an amendment supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and conservation groups.

The Crop Insurance Accountability amendment ties conservation of soil and wetlands to the insurance subsidy, and all farm subsidies. According to Julie Sibbing, director of Agriculture and Forestry Programs at the National Wildlife Federation, it rewards stewards of the land at a time when many conservation programs are being cut.

"So we're even more concerned about the basic conservation provisions that farmers deliver as a requirement of receiving subsidies, because we have so little to go around in terms of protecting our soil, water and wildlife resources," Sibbing declared.

The amendment [H.R. 2260] will be offered this week and, if it fails, the sponsors say they will push it as a separate bill.

Farmers and ranchers who do not comply still can purchase the crop insurance coverage, but they will be responsible for 100 percent of the premium.

While the fiscal component is important, Sibbing said, soil and wetlands conservation also is a type of insurance on its own, especially in areas that are drought-stricken.

"Additionally, it's really important to take care of our soils," she stated. "At places there are highly erodible soils and farmers are required to have conservation plans, these are the soils that have built up great amounts of organic matter and are much more resilient to droughts."

The American Farm Bureau Federation had argued last year against linking subsidies to conservation, but president Bob Stallman said they changed their minds and now view the plan as "rational."

A complete list of groups supporting the legislation is at mikethompson.house.gov.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX