The St. Croix River Association has signed on to a letter from Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) that was sent to Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation regarding the 2012 Farm Bill.
April 13, 2012
Dear Minnesota Congressional Delegation:
Farm policy has a profound impact on the natural resources and economy of our state and region. Federal farm programs and the level of funding for them directly impact landowners’ decisions and management approaches, which in turn affects the environment, rural and urban citizens, and farmers.
With the 2008 Farm Bill set to expire on September 30, 2012 there is strong motivation and rationale to develop a “new” Farm Bill. Mounting budgetary pressures have created additional anxiety and tension, demanding a closer look at the goals and priorities of U.S. federal farm policy.
In just the past few years, Minnesota’s landscape has undergone increased soil erosion, a greater number of impaired waterways, the loss of wetlands and critical wildlife habitat, and pressures on our farmland like never before. A new Farm Bill must be more effective in mitigating these major environmental impacts, and addressing further degradation of environmental health.
Minnesota’s rich agricultural history, the impact of farm policy on all Americans, and our bountiful, yet vulnerable environmental assets compel us all to pay attention to the crafting of the next Farm Bill. Our state’s Great Outdoors cannot be sacrificed for short-term feverish production and market forces, or anemic budgets that threaten our nation’s long-term conservation and environmental foundation.
As Minnesota’s largest coalition of environmental and conservation organizations, representing hundreds of thousands of citizens including rural, urban, and suburban residents, business owners, professionals, and farmers, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership believes that in order to meet these challenges the following principles must be affirmed in the next Farm Bill.
1. Provide sound and robust funding for voluntary conservation programs. An investment in Farm Bill conservation delivers positive outcomes that benefit everyone. With the Conservation Title, Congress can leverage additional state and private funding to assist landowners, farmers and other stakeholders in safeguarding our natural resources. Protecting soil and enhancing water quality are long-term investments in food security and in health that end up being cost saving measures as well as an economic stimulus. The Conservation Title includes a suite of working lands programs, easement programs and public/private partnerships that have served Minnesota well.
Congress should prioritize the Conservation Title by funding it at the current baseline average of $6 billion a year.
2. Enact reforms to curtail wasteful spending and irresponsible policy consequences. Within farm program spending, the overwhelming bulk of public dollars provide assurances to protect farmers and ranchers from major price declines or crop failures from year to year. These assurances offered through the Commodity Title and federally subsidized crop insurance have laudable origins. However, wasteful and detrimental spending must be curtailed and policy reforms should be advanced to lessen unintended consequences that can have disastrous environmental effects. Those include:
• Invigorating a stewardship compact that ensures basic soil and water conservation on American farmland. The federal crop insurance program has evolved to become the primary “safety net” for major segments of agriculture. Insurance is offered to farmers through insurance companies and in large part subsidized by federal dollars. This generous public support, whose initial aim was to stabilize our nation’s farmer base and production abilities, lacks a quid pro quo for assurances that agricultural producers sustain basic levels of soil and water conservation. Subsidizing risk can create an incentive for taking serious risks with our natural resources – attaching the same basic stewardship obligations that apply to other Farm Bill subsidies (provisions known as “Conservation Compliance”) would directly combat some of the unintended destructive consequences of taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance.
Conservation compliance has worked with federally subsidized crop insurance in the past and can work again. Conservation compliance needs to be a condition for producers to receive subsidies for federally supported crop insurance.
• Eliminate wasteful provisions that incentivize habitat destruction. High commodity prices and subsidized crop insurance offer powerful incentives to convert marginal lands such as native prairies into row crop production. A sodsaver provision would ensure that those who plow up native grassland or other environmentally sensitive land should be ineligible for USDA subsidies and benefits on those lands.
• Equitable allocation of finite resources. We recognize that Farm Bill cuts are imminent and savings must be real. Better targeting of crop insurance and commodity programs to those in need or where it is most likely to produce positive outcomes for the American public is the most logical place to identify savings. The strong agricultural economy foreseen for upcoming years provides policymakers with an opportunity to reduce spending in these areas without unfairly burdening farmers or jeopardizing conservation investments.
Establishing stronger payment limits and per individual caps are examples of ways to better target crop insurance and commodity programs. Additionally, Congress should augment the eligibility criteria for commodity programs so they truly assist those actively engaged in the agricultural operation, not just partners on paper or those with insignificant contributions but reaping farm program payments.
On behalf of the members of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and Minnesotans from across our great state, we ask your support to incorporate these Minnesota principles into the final Farm Bill.
We recognize the pace and style will vary between the U.S. Senate and U.S. House in Farm Bill reauthorization. In addition, other Farm Bill programs and areas including renewable energy, rural and urban development, beginning farmers, woodlands management, and local and regional foods systems can contribute to a more conservation oriented, environmentally responsible and resilient bill. Your support for strong voluntary conservation programs and necessary reforms to wasteful spending and irresponsible policy that we have detailed here is vital to our farmers’ ability to produce agricultural products for future generations while also safeguarding our state’s clean water, abundant wildlife and healthy soil.
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Land Stewardship Project
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Senior Policy Manager
National Wildlife Federation
Minnesota Trout Unlimited
Energy Program Director
Izaak Walton League of America-Midwest
Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance*
Minnesota Conservation Federation
League of Women Voters Minnesota
Lois Sinn Lindquist
Clean Water Action Alliance of Minnesota
Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest
E. Frances Sauer
Southeastern Minnesotans for Environmental Protection