Three principal elements are an increase in tillage of cropland to combat herbicide-resistant weeds, the economic incentives of high market prices for major program crops and the likely cutback in USDA conservation program payments to farmers after budget cuts in the next farm bill, said Smith, now chief economist for American Farmland Trust.
Molly Jahn, former USDA under secretary for research and one-time
Sarah Hopper, agricultural policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said that even under current policies there was research to conclude that some farmers in the semi-arid northern plains states were growing crops on marginal lands better suited for cow-calf operations.
Panelists did not disagree with the assessment by Bruce Knight, the former under secretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment, that the farm bill likely would not require adherence to conservation practices to be eligible for subsidized crop insurance. “The farm organizations don’t want it, the crop insurance companies don’t want it, and frankly they have out-lobbied those” who advocate cross-compliance.
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, one of the best-known proponents of cross compliance, said it was not merely a question of what crop insurance companies and farm organizations proposed but “a lack of political courage to stand up to them and say that taxpayers want a quid pro quo – something in return for the $9 billion or so we’re giving them.”
He said that USDA during the Reagan Administration did stand up to opponents of cross-compliance. USDA could do so today, he said, “but President Obama has not done so.”
CropLife’s conference kicked off by showing excerpts of a
new public television documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” produced by Ken Burns and
Dayton Duncan, to be broadcast in November. “We don’t know, we can only assume,
that wise conservation practices will continue,”
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