The Izaak Walton League of America, or IWLA, a national conservation organization with chapters in more than 250 communities nationwide, is calling on Congress to include three conservation priorities in the 2012 Farm Bill.
In its report - The 2012 Farm Bill: Stewardship, Prosperity, and Fairness - released last week, the Izaak Walton League identifies top priorities that will help keep America's lakes and rivers clean, save soil for future food production, conserve habitat for fish and wildlife, and ensure national farm policy is fiscally responsible. The Izaak Walton League urges Congress to include these critical measures in the 2012 Farm Bill:
* Stewardship Agreements for Crop Insurance: Re-establish the connection between subsidies for federal crop insurance premiums and basic conservation provisions to protect wetlands and sensitive soils.
* Sodsaver Initiative: Enact a nationwide Sodsaver provision to prohibit federal farm program and crop insurance subsidies for native land converted to crop production.
* Conservation Investments: Maintain the unique functions of current farm bill conservation programs, establish continuing baseline budgets for core conservation functions, and oppose funding cuts for mandatory conservation programs in annual appropriations bills.
"Over the next few weeks, Congress will make decisions on the 2012 Farm Bill that will affect natural resources, fish and wildlife, and taxpayers across the country for years to come," says Jim Madsen, national president of the Izaak Walton League of America. "The report we're releasing today makes common-sense policy recommendations that will conserve our nation's natural heritage, protect taxpayers from wasteful spending, and support sustainable, productive, and profitable agriculture nationwide."
Stewardship Agreements for Crop Insurance—conservation compliance
At the top of the League's priorities is reinstating stewardship agreements for farmers receiving subsidies for federal crop insurance premiums. Every farm bill program except crop insurance includes requirements for stewardship agreements (also known as conservation compliance). Under conservation compliance, producers agree to implement basic conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and protect wetlands and water quality when producers voluntarily accept support payments from taxpayers. However, in 1996, Congress exempted crop insurance payments from conservation compliance.
"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 the Izaak Walton League's Agriculture Resources Committee. "I also know that it makes sense for taxpayers to expect conservation benefits like clean water for the support they provide to farmers. It should be no different with subsidies for crop insurance premiums – Congress needs to restore the connection between conservation compliance and crop insurance."
Why this conservation group says re-establishing a connection is important
Since Congress severed the connection between crop insurance and conservation compliance, enrollment in crop insurance – and the cost to taxpayers – has skyrocketed. The League's new report notes that more than 260 million acres of farmland are enrolled in the federal crop insurance program, and federal subsidies for crop insurance premiums grew from $500 million per year in the 1980s to more than $7.4 billion in 2011.
Current market conditions and changes in other federal farm policies make re-establishing this connection even more important today. For example, the farm bill adopted by the Senate Agriculture Committee in April eliminates traditional farm support programs, such as direct payments, that include conservation compliance. As these programs are eliminated and crop insurance subsidies become the primarily means by which taxpayer support is provided to producers, it is critical to ensure the public receives conservation benefits in return. The League's proposal accomplishes this common-sense goal.
Sodsaver Initiative is designed to strengthen farm bill conservation goals
The proposed Sodsaver initiative is designed to strengthen farm bill conservation goals by prohibiting federal subsidies for native land that is converted to agricultural production if that land has no prior cropping history. Native grasslands are among the most threatened natural resource in the country, and conserving them supports the ranching economy, reduces soil erosion and nutrient runoff, and provides essential habitat for waterfowl and wildlife. Sodsaver will not prevent landowners from making decisions about how to use their land, but it will ensure that taxpayers no longer subsidize potentially destructive actions on America's remaining native lands.
A Sodsaver provision was incorporated in the farm bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee on April 26. This measure encourages farmers to protect native grasslands and pasturelands by reducing crop insurance premium subsidies by 50 percentage points if lands that have never been tilled are put into production.
Conservation Investments: new farm bill will likely include cuts in funding
The League report also notes that the 2012 Farm Bill will likely include significant cuts in conservation funding as part of a broader effort to reduce government spending. Yet these programs should not bear the brunt of federal budget-cutting efforts. Farm Bill conservation programs have successfully restored water quality, wetlands, soils and other natural resources, benefitting communities nationwide. To achieve these results in the future, the Izaak Walton League urges Congress to "maintain our investments in conservation not only in the farm bill itself but in every budget approved by Congress."
Visit the League's Web site at www.iwla.org/2012FarmBill for a complete copy of the report and more information about Farm Bill conservation priorities.
About the Izaak Walton League of America: Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League is one of the nation's oldest and most respected conservation organizations. With a grassroots network of more than 250 local chapters nationwide, the League takes a common-sense approach toward protecting the nation's natural heritage and improving outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans.