On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the U.S. Senate voted 68-32 in support of the federal Farm Bill, advancing the mammoth legislation to the president’s desk and helping secure critical private-lands conservation programs key to hunting and fishing in the United States.
The TRCP and many of its sportsmen partners commended passage of the bill by the House of Representatives and praised the bill’s conservation provisions overall.
The result of months of formal House-Senate negotiations, the Farm Bill includes key priorities that sportsmen’s groups have been advocating for years, such as the linkage of conservation compliance with the federal crop insurance program, a “Sodsaver” provision aimed at conserving intact prairie ecosystems, and expanding incentives for sportsmen’s access on private lands.
“The Farm Bill … wisely includes the re-linkage of commonsense conservation compliance with federal crop insurance premium assistance. This provision will go a long way toward making sure the American taxpayer isn’t providing an incentive for wetland drainage and soil erosion,” said Bridget Collins, agricultural policy coordinator for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
“The compliance language that is included is the product of a groundbreaking effort between conservation groups, commodity organizations and the crop insurance industry. As a result of that collaboration, the policy is workable and pragmatic, and both conservation and agriculture will be stronger for it,” Collins continued.
Another priority for sportsmen was a Sodsaver provision, targeting the conservation of native prairie. “Over the past few years, high crop prices and high land values have pushed crop production onto every available acre, including some of our last, best, prairie habitat,” said Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “This habitat is essential for upland birds and waterfowl; fortunately, the Farm Bill … does include a strong Sodsaver policy, and while the provision is limited to six states, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, it represents a compromise that will help save native prairie in the states where it is most threatened.”
Nomsen also noted, “Conservation compliance and Sodsaver aren’t just good policy for natural resources; they are good policy for the American taxpayer. Taken together, the two provisions will save the American taxpayers millions of dollars.”
The legislation also reauthorizes many conservation programs that sportsmen have become familiar with over the years, while consolidating others. “While the Conservation Reserve Program has lost some acreage in this Farm Bill, those reductions reflect the current demand for the program on the ground. The bill does include 2 million acres of CRP dedicated for the enrollment of grasslands, something beneficial that has not been included in the past,” said Steve Kline, TRCP director of government relations. The legislation also consolidates several easement programs into a single Agricultural Easement Program, a reform that should bring more user-friendliness and efficiency to what was formerly a slate of easement programs.
Long a TRCP priority, the bill provides $40 million annually to the Voluntary Public Access program, often referred to as Open Fields, dollars that will be used to improve sportsmen’s access to private lands.
“The Farm Bill is certainly sweeping legislation, and, as such, it always inspires important policy debates about how best to improve American agriculture,” concluded Kline. “The final conference report does that, and it will improve the state of our nation’s natural resources. We can undoubtedly say that we would not be where we are today without the leadership of Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Thad Cochran of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson of the House Committee on Agriculture for years of diligent work on this bill. Their effort should be applauded by sportsmen around the country.”
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