Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Farm Bureau nixes safety net for green farmers

Farmers know that taking care of soil and water is essential to keep farmland productive, both now and for future generations. We, as taxpayers, should be doing all we can to support those farmers who steward the land best — especially when they face unavoidable losses.

That’s precisely why Iowa Farm Bureau leaders had agreed to press for renewing the link between crop insurance and conservation in the new Farm Bill. Sadly, it seems this position supporting sustainable farmers was overturned by last-minute, behind-the-scenes caucusing. It makes one wonder, just who is the Farm Bureau supporting?

The Des Moine Register reported that Farm Bureau leaders in Iowa had already voted to link government-subsidized crop insurance to use of conservation practices. This is the way it always used to be, until 1996 when conservation was linked to direct payments instead. (Direct payments is Farm Bill speak for the programs that pay producers of commodity crops such as corn, soybean, rice and cotton — when market prices decline.)

The Farm Bureau represents its farmer members — sometimes.

But the decision to support the link to conservation was apparently reversed in last-minute Tea Party-esque caucusing around the argument that farmers don’t want government telling them what to do.

Linking conservation to crop insurance just makes sense

If direct payments get axed on the budget-cutting chopping block, so too will requirements for conservation compliance. So it made total sense when Farm Bureau leaders argued to re-link conservation to crop insurance. This position is strongly supported by the Izaak Walton League, one of the nation's oldest and most respected conservation organizations.

It makes sense for both taxpayers and farmers that those farmers who invest time and money stewarding the land and protecting our national heritage should receive government protection against major losses. Those who choose not to accept this responsibility should not receive government support. The case is clear.

Conservation practices reduce risk

Doesn’t risk reduction benefit the insured and the insurers alike? As I wrote in a previous blog, government data show that organic production (defined by its conservation practices) leads to reduced risk of crop loss in every one of the dozen crops we have enough data on to analyze this risk.

Although the Farm Bureau is not known as an avid supporter of organic, we were encouraged — coming into what will be a long, tough fight to retain the hard-won sustainable agriculture programs in the 2008 Farm Bill — that here we may have found at least one area of agreement. 

As we continue to build our active engagement in working to ensure an environment- and farmer-friendly Farm Bill, we hope we’ll continue to find elements of agreement with the Farm Bureau. We certainly share a concern about both the environment and the health and wellbeing of farm communities throughout the country.

Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN

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