Is One of Our Country’s Greatest Conservation Achievements at Risk?

from Wildlife Promise

Pintail ducks in flight (Photo: USFWS Pacific)

If I asked a group of people what this country’s greatest conservation success in last 25 years was, I might expect to hear stories about the protection of national forests, the recovery of endangered species, or maybe even the Conservation Reserve Program, which has put tens of millions of acres of agricultural land into conservation. But according to a new report by former USDA Deputy Secretary Jim Moseley, over the last 25 years, one of the least-publicized farmland conservation efforts has actually been one of the most effective. The report, entitled Conservation Compliance: A 25-Year Legacy of Stewardship,explains how conservation compliance, which has historically required farmers to implement conservation measures in return for federally funded farm support, helped save millions of wetland acres while keeping billions of tons of soil on farms. As a result, millions of marginal, erosion-prone lands have remained healthy and productive.

“Few conservation programs can boast the success rate of conservation compliance,” said Moseley, who served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2001 to 2005. “This program has helped farmers save 295 million tons of soil per year and kept an estimated 1.5 million to 3.3 million acres of vulnerable wetlands from being drained. The results of this compact between farmers and taxpayers have been astounding.”

Unfortunately, we are now at risk of losing the conservation gains we have made through this important program. Currently, farmers who receive crop insurance subsidies from the government do not have to participate in conservation compliance. However, over the last 15 years, Congress has increased the subsidy amounts on crop insurance, making it the largest subsidy to farmers.  And, as Congress updates federal farm policy in the next Farm Bill, it is increasingly likely that some commodity programs – which do require conservation compliance – will be phased out in favor of a strengthened crop insurance program. Therefore, it is essential that conservation compliance also be updated to apply to the crop insurance premium assistance.

As Moseley explains:

As Congress reauthorizes the farm bill, it is important that the conservation gains made over the last 25 years be retained. Unless included in the ongoing farm bill discussions, there is a possibility that, for the first time in a quarter century, conservation compliance provisions will no longer be attached to the largest federal payment program supporting producers.

Take Action: Call your member of Congress and tell them that you support linking conservation compliance to crop insurance in the next farm bill.