WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2013 – Should farmers who receive federal assistance with their crop insurance premiums be required to meet conservation compliance standards?
“Yes,” says former USDA Deputy Secretary Jim Moseley in a new report issued today and released during a press conference sponsored by the American Farmland Trust.
Moseley’s report, “Conservation Compliance: A 25-year Legacy of Stewardship,” makes the case that conservation compliance is a “reasonable expectation in exchange for the significant benefits the public provides for producers.”
Moseley said he wrote the report to address questions and misleading comments that surfaced during last year’s farm bill debate. He plans to meet with members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees as well as other farm leaders to discuss the paper.
“I thought it was time to bring a little truth to the table and open a dialogue,” he explained.
Several major farm and commodity organizations, including the American Farm Bureau, oppose linking crop insurance benefits to conservation compliance.
The federal government currently subsidizes about sixty percent of the crop insurance premiums paid by farmers. On Moseley’s Indiana farm, that represents about $45-50/acre. “So it’s not insignificant,” he adds.
Most producers are already in compliance with conservation requirements that were first included in the 1985 Farm Security Act. At that time, the policy was viewed as a way to incentivize farmers who grow crops on highly-erodible lands and receive federal crop supports to develop conservation plans and implement practices protecting natural resources. Crop insurance was originally included among the list of USDA benefits that were tied to conservation compliance.
However, in the 1996, that linkage was removed by lawmakers as one way to encourage more producers to purchase crop insurance and move away from the need for annual ad hoc disaster payments.
Now, as lawmakers seemed poised to eliminate direct payments and boost the role of crop insurance, Moseley suggests that the “incredible strides” farmers have made in getting conservation on the land need to be maintained by linking compliance requirements to federal assistance on crop insurance.
His report cites an Economic Research Service (ERS) analysis showing that only two percent of corn production that benefits from crop insurance is not already subject to compliance, due to the linkage required for participating in USDA’s commodity programs. Similarly, only two percent of soybeans and five percent of wheat currently have crop insurance but are not participating in other USDA programs.
“If conservation compliance is re-attached to crop insurance, only a small percentage of producers would be newly covered,” Moseley notes. “So this would not be a heavy burden.”
However, American Farm Bureau Federation’s Mary Kay Thatcher, says the rules can be problematic, especially for those who farm near wetlands.
The wetlands provision states that if a producer converts a wetland after 1990 to “make production of an agricultural commodity possible”, they are in violation, she explains.
“We have examples of producers pulling out a tree or a fence-line and not planting a crop, but still being caught by swampbuster due to this provision. Changes must be made to the law to address some of these concerns.”
Thatcher also notes that crop insurance is different than farm programs.
“Farmers pay a portion of the premiums for crop insurance. They should not have to also comply with conservation mandates for such a program,” Thatcher says.
Moseley says that, by and large, most farmers have already integrated conservation requirements into their everyday farming practices.
“It’s become the way you farm today,” he noted while making the case that conservation compliance would require little or no extra cost for most producers.
American Farmland Trust believes that conservation compliance represents an “important covenant between farmers and society,” noted CEO Jon Scholl.
“It’s the right thing to do for farmers and the right thing to do for the public.”
To read the full report:
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