Thoughts About Conservation and the Farm Bill Debate

Hoosier Perspectives

Conservation farmers make pitch for crop insurance conservation compliance.

Published on: April 22, 2013

Some Indiana conservation farmers would like to see conservation compliance added as a requirement to get federally subsidized crop insurance. They've met with U.S. Senator Joe Donnelley and expressed their opinions. Their idea is that if a farmer is going to get full benefits from subsidized crop insurance, he or she should have to qualify at some level of conservation compliance. If he or she doesn't comply, their costs for insurance should be higher. Savings could be used to fund conservation programs, cover costs of technical assistance for conservation or help support the Conservation Security program.

Here's the crux of the argument as several conservation farmers laid it out to Donnelley when he visited Indiana recently. He made a stop at Mike Starkey's farm near Brownsburg.

FARM BILL DEBATE: Conservation farming, the farm bill and crop insurance are all connected issues, according to some Indiana farmers.
FARM BILL DEBATE: Conservation farming, the farm bill and crop insurance are all connected issues, according to some Indiana farmers.

Ten farmers plus Starkey who all no-till and use cover crops gathered at one location. Almost to the person they reported that their corn yield last year was above the county average, often by 20 to 40%. They may have still collected crop insurance payments. But in their minds they didn't collect as much as they would have if they hadn't used conservation tillage systems. Each one credited his system with helping his yield wind up higher than the county average

Here's their argument. If they're using conservation and producing more than neighbors who use conventional tillage, they're saving soil and preventing more nutrients from going downstream, helping on the environmental front.

Their contention is also that they're saving the government money, or conversely, those who still practice 100% conventional tillage are costing taxpayers' money. The problem, they contend, is that if subsidized crop insurance is going to make the conventional farmer whole, or at least allow him to stay in business, he has no incentive to look at different practices that might improve his yields. If he pays the premium he knows what he can count on getting, no matter how the year turns out or how he cares for his land.

The group of 10 farmers agreed that the neighbor has the right to farm any way he chooses. They also believe there should be subsidized crop insurance. Their point, however, is that there ought to be some incentive to change.

At least in light of 2012, it makes sense. There may be years when farmers with conventional yields turn out higher yields, and no one collects crop insurance.

It's an area that needs careful study before it's implemented. However, it certainly deserves debate in the Congressional ag committees before the farm bill is finally put together … let's hope that happens soon!