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Conservation funding inadequateConservation funding inadequate

Conservation funding must not fall out from underneath the American farmer.

Forrest Laws

April 4, 2022

It’s not that the conservation programs in Title 2 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 aren’t working, according to Dr. Joe Outlaw, co-director of Texas A&M University’s Agricultural and Food Policy Center.

The problem is the conservation programs in the 2018 farm bill, like the 2014 farm bill and other farm bills before it, haven’t received enough funding, Outlaw told a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee on the role of farm programs in addressing climate change.

While some environmental activists have been advocating that carbon sequestration market payments could replace conservation and traditional farm safety net payments in the next farm bill, Outlaw said the 675 who participate in the Agricultural and Food Policy Center’s producer surveys disagree.

“As many of you know, the primary focus of AFPC has been to analyze the likely consequences of policy changes at the farm level with our one-of-a-kind data set of information that we collect from our commercial farmers and ranchers located across the United States,” said Outlaw. (The AFPC also has 94 model farms it uses to analyze policy outcomes.)

“While we normally provide the results of policy analysis to you or your staff without recommendation, today I’m carrying the message from the 675 producers we work with across the United States.”

Track record

Outlaw said the set of conservation programs in Title 2 of the farm bill have a strong track record of “incentivizing producers to retire some of the country’s most fragile land or implementing environmentally beneficial projects or practices on working lands.

“The producers we work with have very strong, positive views about these programs with the only drawback they have is there are more projects they are willing to do than there is money to do them.”

In preparation for his testimony, the AFPC emailed its representative farm members a set of five points he planned on making and asked them to let the AFPC know if they agreed or disagreed with each of the five points. They agreed, he said.

The first was that having a strong safety net from Title 1 programs such as Price Loss Coverage or PLC and the marketing loan and Title 11 or crop insurance remains critical even with the carbon market opportunities.

Peace of mind

“In the words of a wheat farm panel member from Washington state, it’s the peace of mind we get from knowing the bottom can’t completely fall out from under us that keeps us going,” said Outlaw. “Most felt that crop insurance was going to be the key safety net program this year with the current high commodity prices and reiterated that we should do no harm.

“This leads me to the point that might not be shared by others on this panel. In my opinion, tying climate smart practices to the crop insurance program should not be done; not to premiums, not to participation nor to indemnities. The farmers we work with are worried about the long run implications for crop insurance of tying climate smart provisions to the policy, and that it will lead to regional winners and losers, depending upon practices that are available”

The second point: USDA conservation programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, that have incentivized a broad array of conservation practices have worked well in the past. They have just been underfunded.

“These programs have a strong history of helping producers undertake practices that scientific studies have found provide proven environmental benefits,” he noted. “Producers much prefer this type of approach to the current carbon program situation.”

To see Outlaw’s full presentation, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_GQI6b6CCs.

About the Author(s)

Forrest Laws

Forrest Laws, senior director of content for Farm Press, spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He now oversees the content creation for Delta, Southeast, Southwest and Western Farm Press. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.

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