56 Groups Ask Congress to Protect Agricultural Conservation

Congress needs to observe a set of basic conservation principles to protect soil, water quality and wildlife on agricultural land, urge the Iowa Environmental Council and 55 other policy and advocacy organizations in a document, released yesterday by the American Farmland Trust.

“The public and the conservation community are sending a unified message to Capitol Hill: the worthy goals of deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility must not be an excuse to reduce support for conservation” said Jon Scholl of the American Farmland Trust. “As a matter of national security, it is imperative that we maintain our robust investment in conservation and simultaneously work to make the conservation programs smarter and more efficient.”

The coalition members, representing national, regional and state organizations, are asking lawmakers to:

  • Put a high priority on funding critical conservation programs at the current baseline level of $6.5 billion a year.
  • Strengthen and enforce provisions that require farmers to implement basic conservation practices in return for farm subsidies and extend them to insurance subsidies.
  • Target conservation dollars where the opportunities for conservation and environmental outcomes are greatest.
  • Streamline existing programs by reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and ramp up their effectiveness by linking payments to performance and focusing more on whole-farm and whole-ranch conservation systems.
  • Ensure that all segments of the farming community – women, minorities and beginning farmers – have access to funding and technical assistance.

“To maximize the public benefit from their investment in farm conservation program, it is especially critical that the most effective conservation practices are applied in the right places on the landscape to achieve water quality goals” said Susan Heathcote, Water Program Director for the Iowa Environmental Council. “We also need to ask congress to strengthen requirements in the Farm Bill for farmers to meet basic soil and water conservation standards in order to be eligible for subsidy payments, including subsidized crop insurance premiums.”

A recent public opinion survey on federal agricultural policy conducted for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation found that most Americans also support these conservation principles.

  • 57% say conservation programs should not be cut in order to reduce the deficit because in the long run they save money that would be spent cleaning up environmental problems like polluted water.
  • 60% say it is a good idea to require farmers to meet certain environmental standards to protect water quality or soil health in order to receive subsidy payments and subsidized crop insurance because it will ensure subsidies do not encourage practices that cause environmental damage.
  • 60% say we should prioritize giving aid to farmers in locations where the land and waterways are in greatest need of restoration and protection instead of spreading funding out across the country to give all farmers access to funding.

The other Iowa organizations who signed on to the Conservation Principles are Iowa Wildlife Federation and Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Learn More: Read the entire Principles for Strengthening the Conservation Title document, the Public Opinion Survey on Federal Agricultural Policy and Conservation or the Conservation Principles press release from the American Farmland Trust.

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