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Farm Bill Conferees Hear About Ag-Conservation Connection

PHOTO: Montana groups, along with almost 300 nationwide, want to be sure conservation components of the 2013 Farm Bill aren't left behind. Photo credit: Ryan Stockwell
PHOTO: Montana groups, along with almost 300 nationwide, want to be sure conservation components of the 2013 Farm Bill aren't left behind. Photo credit: Ryan Stockwell
November 18, 2013

HELENA, Mont. - Another deadline is looming for the next Farm Bill, as U.S. House and Senate conferees continue to work out details. Two of those details have caught the attention of nearly 300 agriculture, conservation, wildlife and water-quality groups, including organizations in Montana. They've signed a letter to the conferees asking that the conservation requirement for crop insurance subsidies and the "Sodsaver" program aren't left behind.

According to Ryan Stockwell, agriculture program manager at the National Wildlife Federation, basic conservation compliance had long been connected with subsidies, but changes in programs have led to a loophole that needs to be closed.

"It's been effective at providing wildlife habitat and protecting water quality, minimizing soil erosion and ensuring the long-term productivity of the land, while also ensuring accountability for taxpayers," he stated.

Stockwell said the bottom line is that taxpayer money should not subsidize practices that cause taxpayer expenses later.

The "Sodsaver" component is less well-known. The idea is to protect native grasslands, which have been disappearing at a faster pace because of government incentives to plant row crops. Stockwell said nearly 400,000 acres were broken out into row crops in 2011 and 2012, and it's not always ideal farmland: it tends to be more prone to erosion and flooding.

"If they're deciding to make that conversion of that vital, fragile grassland, they're doing so purely on the market incentive and not any other additional incentive," he charged.

The conferees need to finish the Farm Bill for final votes before the end of the year. The Montana Wildlife Federation and Montana Audubon signed the letter.

The letter and list of groups is at blog.nwf.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT