Perhaps nowhere in farm policy is there a more proven track record of accomplishment than with the existing conservation compact between farmers and taxpayers. This compact – a provision of the 1985 farm bill called conservation compliance – sparked more than two decades of unprecedented progress in limiting soil erosion, cleaning up waterways and protecting wetlands.
Farmers managing more than 140 million acres of highly erodible land have implemented practices that reduced the amount of soil washed into streams from such lands by 40 percent. This accounts for more than 300 million tons of soil saved per year.
Annualized since 1985, that is about 8 billion tons of soil saved on the farm, allowing it to remain a productive asset for growing our nation’s food and fiber, rather than washing into our rivers, lakes and streams, or blowing away with the wind. Moreover, between 1.5 million and 3.3 million acres of wetlands have been saved under conservation compliance.
In all, more than 1 million conservation plans have been developed and implemented under the conservation compliance provision. Farmers must be in compliance in order to be eligible to participate in the federal crop and income-support programs that have stabilized both farm income and the American food supply. This compact has served both farmers and taxpayers very well and should be renewed.
Congress is moving toward reform of the farm safety net, increasing the role that federal crop insurance plays. Unlike the current suite of primary farm support programs, crop insurance is not yet part of the conservation compliance compact. The Senate farm bill included a bipartisan amendment that links federal subsidies for crop-insurance premiums to conservation compliance; the version approved by the House Agriculture Committee does not include a similar provision.
Congress must bring all income-support programs under the conservation compliance umbrella, including eligibility for crop- and revenue-insurance premium subsidies.
Failure to align crop insurance with conservation compliance could allow huge numbers of conservation plans to lapse as the crop insurance becomes the heart of the farm safety net. Meanwhile, the vagaries of extreme weather and volatile prices may encourage additional plantings of crops on highly erodible lands, potentially undoing the benefits achieved in the past.
Conservation compliance must be attached to the crop-insurance premium subsidy as part of the farm bill, so we can continue to protect our soil and water for future generations.