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Forum: Boost conservation in bill

Some 30 participants in the recent Eastern Iowa Farm Tour and Farm Bill Forum had an opportunity to view firsthand a number of conservation practices that help protect Iowa’s water, soil and wildlife habitats. Theresa Weiss, district conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, led the June 6 tour.

The tour spanned Dubuque and Jackson counties, and the group included representatives of conservation and wildlife organizations, state agencies, legislative staff, and state Rep. Charles Isenhart, who serves District 27. Participants had the opportunity to view the full range of NRCS programs and learn about the impact the projects and programs have for farms, as well as for the entire watershed.

Host of projects

Terraces, contour strip cropping, low till and no-till, grass waterways, and grade stabilization structures were showcased.

Monoslope buildings for cattle and livestock manure storage structures, both of which provide water quality benefits, were also featured. Examples of NRCS farm bill programs, like the Conservation Reserve Program that pays producers to take sensitive land out of row crop production, got a good look.

Federal funding for many of these programs has seen consistent cuts in recent years through the annual congressional appropriations process. At the June 6 Farm Bill Forum in Iowa, leaders representing farm and conservation organizations voiced their concern. They fear more funding reductions are coming in the 2012 U.S. Farm Bill being debated in Congress.

The Izaak Walton League of America, co-sponsor of the Dubuque and Jackson county tour along with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, ranks maintaining conservation funding as one of its top priorities in its recently released farm bill report.

New provisions needed

The need for other conservation policies was also highlighted during the Farm Bill Forum at Dubuque. For example, a Sodsaver provision is being proposed. Also proposed is a requirement for basic stewardship practices to be used for farmers to qualify for a reduced rate on their federal crop insurance premium.

Sodsaver would serve as a disincentive to place the nation’s remaining native landscapes into crop production. The Izaak Walton League states in its report that many of these lands are fragile and unproductive, and putting these lands into crop production isn’t sustainable from an environmental or an economic perspective.

The Sodsaver language, adopted in the U.S. Senate farm bill in April, would reduce by 50% the government-paid portion of a producer’s crop insurance premium on any land placed into crop production that has no previous cropping history. In the House, Reps. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Tim Walz, D-Minn., have introduced their version of the legislation that would mirror the Senate’s language.

Stewardship agreements or “conservation compliance” was established in 1985 in response to the trend of converting marginal land to cropland and the resulting soil erosion, which is familiar to farmers. To remain eligible for most USDA subsidies, farmers are required to use an NRCS-approved plan to protect highly erodible land, native vegetation and wetlands.

Crop insurance, compliance

In 1996, crop insurance was exempted from the compliance mechanism to encourage participation in the federal crop insurance program, with the intended goal of making crop insurance the primary farm financial safety net.

Since that time, crop insurance has become one of the largest programs in the farm bill. The government pays, on average, 62% of a producer’s premium, and the congressional budget office estimates that the current cost of crop insurance exceeds $9 billion a year.

To protect ag lands, wildlife habitat and clean water, the Izaak Walton League is urging Congress to close the loophole that exempts farmers receiving federal crop insurance payments from implementing stewardship agreements. “As a retired farmer, I know all too well how important it is to have a safety net when a natural disaster wipes out a crop,” says Jim Caligiuri, a retired farmer from Iowa and chairman of the Izaak Walton League’s Agriculture Resources Committee.

“I also know it makes sense for taxpayers to expect conservation benefits like clean water for the support they provide farmers. It should be no different with subsidies for crop insurance premiums. Congress needs to restore the connection between conservation compliance and crop insurance,” adds Caligiuri.

To learn more about conservation proposals for the U.S. Farm Bill and to read a complete copy of the IWLA report “The 2012 Farm Bill: Stewardship, Prosperity and Fairness,” visit the website www.iwla.org/agriculture.

Steel writes for Izaak Walton League of America. Contact her at gsteel@iwla.org or 651-649-1446.

About IWLA: Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League of America is one of our nation’s oldest and most respected conservation organizations. With a grassroots network of more than 250 local chapters nationwide, the league takes a commonsense approach toward protecting the nation’s natural heritage and improving outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans.


This article published in the July, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.