The Farm Bill: Agriculture's opportunity to lead on green issues
By Jon Scholl
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
In preparation for my testimony at next week's House Committee on Natural Resources hearing, I've been listening to lots of discussions among farmers about how Environmental Protection Agency regulations are onerous for agriculture. As a partner in a family farm, I understand these concerns and recognize the reality underlying fears about how environmental restrictions can negatively impact our operations.
At American Farmland Trust, we know that there is a right way and a wrong way to work with farmers and ranchers on environmental issues. The environmental challenges farmers and ranchers grapple with are complex, difficult to identify, and resolve. The classic 1970s-era regulatory approach to environmental clean-up is a poor fit for agriculture.
In order to achieve environmental improvements on agricultural lands, the government will be successful with a collaborative approach - one that focuses on providing guidance and incentives to farmers. I believe the 2012 Farm Bill presents an opportunity for agriculture to demonstrate how this can be accomplished.
By supporting farm bill conservation programs that have proven to work well for farmers, such as technical assistance through USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, cost sharing through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and various easement programs that protect land, agriculture can take ownership of our environmental challenges.
From discussions AFT has hosted with farmers and agricultural leaders across the county, we know that farmers and ranchers rely on these programs. We also have identified a need for approaches centered on continuous improvement, rather than on compliance with an array of confusing and inflexible environmental regulations.
It is ironic that even though farmers and government agencies ultimately want the same thing in terms of protecting our agricultural resources for future generations, we cannot agree on how to get there. Despite our strong ethic of stewardship and our economic interest in sustaining the land, farmers and ranchers are so often on the defensive when it comes to environmental issues.
Fortunately, the Farm Bill offers a chance for agriculture to turn this situation around. If farmers can proactively rally behind the programs that work to enhance stewardship, we can send another strong signal that shows we care about protecting our environment.
Beyond our own property lines, the Farm Bill can help position agriculture as a solution to some of the broader environmental problems facing our nation and the world. There is a growing recognition that on-farm actions can and do make a real difference in filtering groundwater, protecting wildlife habitat, promoting biodiversity, and managing flood lands.
Now is the time for American agriculture to step up and show that we can play an enhanced role in addressing important environmental challenges. Let's not miss this chance to lead and take control of our future.
About the Author: Jon Scholl is the President of American Farmland Trust and is a partner in a family farm in McLean County, Illinois.
American Farmland Trust is the nation's leading conservation organization dedicated to saving America's farm and ranch land, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and supporting a sustainable future for farms. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development, AFT has helped save millions of acres of farmland from development and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more.
AFT's national office is located in Washington, DC. Phone: 202-331-7300. For more information, visit www.farmland.org
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