Tag Archives: conservation compliance

278 organziations sign letter in support of farm bill conservation

farmbillblogAs work on the long-stalled Farm Bill resumes in a Congressional conference committee this week, across the nation, 278 organizations including many in Iowa have signed a new letter calling on Congress to take responsible action for conservation.

The groups urge Congress to reconnect taxpayer subsidies for crop insurance to common-sense conservation protections for soil and water–a part of the farm bill known as “conservation compliance.” The letter also calls on Congress to support a national “sodsaver” provision to reduce taxpayer subsidies for converting native grasslands to crop production.

“Both of these provisions, included in the Senate bill, ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to incentivize risky or environmentally destructive practices,” the 278 groups say.  “Conservation compliance and sodsaver are among the top farm bill priorities for our groups, and both will be determining factors as we consider our support for a final bill.”

As the letter explains, much is at stake as Congress considers this policy:

Without these key protections, billions of taxpayer dollars spent on crop insurance over coming years will subsidize soil erosion that will choke our waterways, increase the cost of water treatment and dredging, and reduce the long term productivity of farmland. It will also allow for the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of valuable wetlands, resulting in increased downstream flooding, loss of wildlife habitat and decreased water quality.

A diverse group of organizations representing Iowans, including the Iowa Environmental Council, have signed the letter.  Other Iowa organizations signing include Citizens for a Healthy Iowa, the Des Moines Water Works, the Driftless Chapter of Iowa Trout Unlimited, the Iowa Bowhunters Association, the Iowa Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, the Iowa Farmers Union, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, the Iowa Wildlife Federation, the Izaak Walton League of America, Maquoketa Valley Chapter, the North Bear Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Quad City Audubon Society, the Spring Creeks Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Iowa Council of Trout Unlimited, and the Wagner Conservation Coalition.  The Environmental Law and Policy Center, a regional organization with offices in Iowa, also signed, as did the Environmental Working Group, whose national agriculture program is based in Ames.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) coordinated this national effort.  NSAC’s website has the full letter and list of organizations.  You can also read about the latest grassland loss data from USDA by clicking here.

Is toxic algae coming to a lake near you?

Summer should be a time for fishing, boating and swimming with family on our nation’s lakes.  Yet instead of fresh clear waters, many users are encountering mats of thick blue-green harmful algal blooms (HABs) – aka toxic algae.

toxic_algae_report_20130920A new report by the National Wildlife Foundation and Resource media highlights the toxic algae blooms that are fouling waters nationwide, including in Iowa.  The authors have also launched an interactive map tracking reports of harmful algae blooms from across the country at toxicalgaenews.com.



In addition to highlighting the health and economic impacts of harmful algal blooms, the report also discusses solutions for this widespread problem.  It highlights Iowa farmer Mark Peterson who is making extensive use of cover crops on his farm to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in local waters.

Here’s Mark’s story, reprinted with permission of the report’s authors:

“One of the most effective things I do is use cover crops to soak up nutrients that move with any rainfall,” he says. “I aerial seed cereal rye before harvest so that it is already sprouted and growing by the time harvest is over. That way there is always something growing in the field which helps protect the soil and scavenge nutrients. This also will help build up organic matter over time.

“I’m not alone in this practice – more and more farmers are shifting to a spring fertilizer application, along with planting cover crops. Why? It’s good for the farm. We like to say, ‘Don’t farm naked!’ Cover crops prevent the land from staying bare over the wintertime. They prevent soil erosion, keep the nutrients in the soil and improve soil health.

“It is time for the government to put its money where its mouth is and provide funding for conservation education that will improve soil and water quality. We should also link conservation compliance to crop insurance. Farmers are getting a big subsidy on our crop insurance, and in exchange we must take care of our soil and water not only for ourselves, but for the future generations. Melanie and I have five sons and two grandchildren—so far. I want to leave, for them, the farm and the environment in even better shape than what we started with.”

By the way, the great “Don’t Farm Naked” t-shirt Mark is wearing comes from Practical Farmers of Iowa, a Council member organization.

U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee passes draft farm bill with needed conservation language

farmbillblogThe Senate Agriculture committee met today to consider amendments to the Committee’s draft Farm Bill.  While there are many issues the Council is following in the Farm Bill, our top priority is to re-link crop insurance premium subsidies to conservation compliance as was the case prior to 1996.  The Farm Bill that came out of the Senate Agriculture committee today re-establishes that link.  An amendment to the Committee Bill by Senator Hoeven (R-ND) that would have stuck the tie between Conservation Compliance and crop insurance failed in committee.

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New action alert: Help Iowa’s Senators make the case for conservation


Update:  (6/19/2012) The U.S. Senate is expected to act quickly on many farm bill amendments, including one to re-establish the critical conservation compliance – insurance subsidy connection.

The name of the amendment has changed, and is now the Chambliss conservation compliance amendment #2438.

In addition to e-mailing Senators Grassley and Harkin about this legislation, we urge you to call today:

  • Sen. Harkin’s office:  (202) 224-3254
  • Sen. Grassley’s office:  (202) 224-3744

Here’s our previous alert on this topic before this update:

This action alert is part of our continuing special coverage of the 2012 farm bill.

Last week, the U.S. Senate began considering the 2012 farm bill, and one of Iowa’s two Senators, Tom Harkin, made his support of a critical conservation measure public:

“I support crop insurance.  But I do believe that there ought to be conservation compliance along with crop insurance,” he told reporter Clark Kauffman.

“The more taxpayer dollars that can go to conservation, the better off everyone is—the better off farmers are, the better off our society is, the better off our country is,” Harkin added.

The Iowa Environmental Council, other conservation groups, and people from across the country have been calling for a connection between taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies and conservation practices all year, and Harkin’s comments are a sign those calls are being heard in Washington.


Although the Senate Agriculture Committee included some limits on insurance subsidies for farmers who plow native prairies or grasslands for the first time, the current bill does not include badly needed protections for wetlands and highly erodible soil.

Further, the agribusiness lobby would prefer that substantially increased insurance subsidies continue with no strings attached, and are working tirelessly to advance that position.

Your action is needed now because you are in a unique position to help these needed conservation protections become law.  Both of Iowa’s Senators have been strong advocates for reform of federal farm programs, and both could be critical voices of support for these additional conservation practices.

But Senators Harkin and Grassley need to hear from you.  They need to know Iowans expect more than “no strings attached” farm subsidies that contradict efforts to conserve our state’s soil and water.

Without conservation standards, federally subsidized crop insurance has the unintended consequence of encouraging production on marginal lands.  Farmers who want to fulfill their responsibility for good stewardship of the land are at a disadvantage, because poor stewards are allowed to cut corners and reap the same public benefits.

You can support needed conservation action by contacting Senators Harkin and Grassley and encouraging them to support the Cardin Conservation Compliance Amendment.  To take action, fill out the Senators’ contact forms.  You can personalize our sample message, below, or write your own to explain why farm conservation is important to you.

Contact Senator Harkin: http://harkin.senate.gov/contact_opinion.cfm

Contact Senator Grassley:  http://www.grassley.senate.gov/contact.cfm


(We encourage you to personalize this message to explain why you think conservation protections belong in the next farm bill.)

Dear Senator:

Iowa is fortunate to be represented by two U.S. Senators who are both strong advocates for needed reforms to farm programs that will protect farmers,  taxpayers, and Iowa’s natural resources.  As the Senate debates the farm bill this week, I encourage you to take another step to protect the public interest by supporting the Cardin Conservation Compliance Amendment (SA-2219).

This important amendment will help ensure taxpayer dollars protect natural resources while providing the safety net farmers need.  Many Iowa farmers work hard to be good stewards of the land and water, but they face a competitive disadvantage when poor stewards can cut corners and receive the same public benefits.  Without your action, crop and revenue insurance payments will continue to incentivize farming on marginal lands where intensive crop production is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable in the long run.

As Congress works to design a farm safety net that meets the needs of today’s farmers, it’s important that policies to protect the long-term health and productivity of Iowa’s landscape do not fall behind.  Now is the time to restore the link between conservation compliance and subsidies for crop insurance.  I hope you will support efforts to incorporate this reform into the final farm bill.


[your name]

Contact Senator Harkin: http://harkin.senate.gov/contact_opinion.cfm

Contact Senator Grassley:  http://www.grassley.senate.gov/contact.cfm

Farm bill debate begins in the full US Senate

This week, as the farm bill reached the full U.S. Senate (read it online here), the Iowa Environmental Council continues to monitor how the bill will affect federal conservation programs which have a tremendous impact on Iowa’s landscape.  As the Senate continues its work, here’s some of what we’re reading about how this bill is proceeding:

As we’ve been saying for months, this year’s farm bill debate is set against the background of recent high commodity prices–especially for corn–which are driving more land around the Midwest into agricultural production–including land unfit for intensive row-crop production.

June 6, the New York Times ran an informative piece connecting this trend to a top farm bill priority of the Council and other conservation groups–connecting federal crop insurance subsidies to to basic expectations for conservation practices.

The article discusses how the availability of subsidized crop insurance is making it easier for farmers to choose to plant crops on marginal land that may or may not produce good results.

Congress is working to reduce spending on farm programs this year, and those cuts are expected to dramatically increase the role of crop insurance subsidies as a part of the taxpayer funded safety net for farmers.

This change could have significant consequences for the environment.  While many existing farm programs require farmers to implement certain conservation practices on vulnerable land, since 1996, the crop insurance subsidy has contained no such protections.

Many of America’s best known food system commentators expressed their alarm at the lack of conservation standards associated with the federal insurance subsidy in a June 4 letter to Congress:

“…the proposed $9 billion-a-year crop insurance program comes with minimal societal obligations.  Growers, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premium subsidies should at least be required to take simple measures to protect wetlands, grassland and soil.  Instead, the unlimited subsidies will encourage growers to plow up fragile areas and intensify fencerow-to-fencerow cultivation of environmentally sensitive land, erasing decades of conservation gains.”

The version of the farm bill the Senate is currently debating emerged from the Senate Agriculture Committee without provisions reconnecting insurance subsidies to conservation expectations–except in a limited case.  Under a so-called “sodbuster” provision adopted by the agriculture committee, taxpayer-supported subsidies would be reduced by half for native prairie or grasslands farmers put into production for the first time.

The Iowa Environmental Council and other conservation groups nationwide have called on the Senate to include an amendment to the current farm bill proposal that would strengthen conservation protections for wetlands and highly erodible land as well.

The Council has said previously that connecting crop insurance subsidies to conservation is an “idea with merit” that most Americans–and Iowa farmers–support.

Our position matches that of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition which explained in a recent fact sheet on the insurance subsidy – conservation connection that “with the receipt of subsidies comes a responsibility to protect resources for future generations; most farmers agree, yet are placed at a competitive disadvantage when poor stewards are allowed to cut corners and reap the same public benefits.”

That’s why we’re hopeful the Senate will incorporate these conservation protections as it continues its work.  We will continue to monitor activity in Washington closely and alert our action alert volunteers of opportunities to contact Iowa’s Congressional delegation to provide feedback.  You can receive our action alerts by signing up on our website.

An important note:  The Council and other groups are calling for attaching conservation expectations to federal subsidies for crop insurance–which can pay up to 60% of a farmers’ premium.  None of the restrictions discussed here would prevent farmers from purchasing crop insurance–which is a product sold by private insurance companies.  Attaching conservation expectations to crop insurance is simply a way of ensuring the taxpayer does not help support environmentally harmful practices.