In some areas of the country there has been a significant decline in native grasslands, much of which is being converted to cropland. The Chairmen of the House and Senate Ag Committees say this has happened as a result of unsound crop insurance practices that provide yield guarantees to crops grown on converted grassland that may far exceed what the land would produce. Grasslands, however, are important to conserving soil, protecting water quality, providing vital wildlife habitats and sequestering carbon.
In a letter addressed to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Representative Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, asked USDA to take action against unintended incentives to farmers to convert native grassland. They asked that USDA use its authority to cut back on these incentives and stop improper crop insurance practices in order to help conserve natural resources.
The chairmen wrote that the Department of Agriculture has authority and the responsibility to manage the crop insurance program effectively, and particularly not to provide insurance at a loss when it is an incentive for additional environmentally damaging land conversion. They emphasized though individual farmers may certainly choose to convert grassland to cropland, federal crop insurance must not shield the producer from losses if the land is simply unsuited to crop production.