Much of KWA’s work falls under the umbrella of the Clean Water Act. The Farm Bill is not under the Clean Water Act umbrella, BUT several of the Titles in the Bill have significant impacts on the water quality of our waterways.Since 1933, the federal government has operated with some degree of national agricultural policy. What began as the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, created to address bottoming-out crop prices, is now known as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.
Every 5 years or so, Congress must reauthorize the “Farm Bill” for an additional 5 years. Typically, Congress makes minor changes to the Farm Bill before finally reauthorizing it. The current version of the “Farm Bill” has various components, called “Titles”, that fund different programs nationwide. These include Nutrition, Commodities, Conservation, Trade, Credit, Rural Development, Research, Forestry, Crop Insurance, Commodity Futures, Trade and Taxes, and Miscallaneous. (Did you know: the Nutrition Title (food stamps) makes up 68% of the Farm Bill budget; the Conservation Title is only 9%; the Crop Insurance Title is only 8%)
For example, the Conservation Title includes funding for conservation programs that pay farmers to take ecologically important or sensitive lands out of farm production and put them into conservation easements. Instead of a farmer planting crops all the way up to the edge of a stream, these programs encourage farmers to leave a “riparian buffer”, which helps filter pollutants before they reach the stream, and helps protect the stream banks and habitat in the stream. Alternatively, instead of a farmer draining a wetland and planting crops in it, the Wetland Reserve Program (under the Conservation Title) pays willing farmers to not farm the wetland, and instead, to put it under a protective easement. These Conservation Title programs help prevent the destruction of critical aquatic resources, and also help prevent agricultural pollution, especially #Nutrient pollution, and soil loss from reaching our waterways and causing water quality problems. (Did you know: in 1982, on cultivated land, Kentucky lost 8.7 tons of soil per acre per year, but by 2007, that had been reduced to 4.1 tons per acre per year!)
Another area of the Farm Bill that has an impact on water quality is the Crop Insurance Title. You might be wondering, “How does insurance have anything to do with water?” Good question. Sometimes, in order to qualify for insurance, an individual or business has to pass certain criteria, or even adhere to certain criteria while under that insurance. Well, with Crop Insurance, farmers would pay a 60% taxpayer-subsidized rate to get federal crop insurance that would cover the farmer for losses that might occur from various unforeseen circumstances, like tornadoes, drought, floods, and such. In return for this taxpayer-subsidized insurance, farmers used to be required to be stewards of the land and resources, to protect the soil and water by using conservation land practices. In the 1990’s, this “conservation compliance” requirement was removed from Crop Insurance, but kept under another part of the Farm Bill. The current Congress, though, has considered getting rid of that other program, and conservation compliance could be lost with it.
As we all know, the federal government, and state and local government, is undergoing significant budget troubles. The Farm Bill, especially certain Titles, are under consideration for cuts. At the beginning of the year, the 2008 Farm bill, which expired in September of 2012, was reauthorized for 9 months as part of the fiscal cliff package. This means Congress will again have to put together a new five-year Farm Bill proposal sometime this year.
Well, as of June 10, 2013, the Senate voted for and passed their version of the Farm Bill. This version includes a re-linkage of conservation compliance to crop insurance, which will help provide important protections to wetlands and highly erodible soils. The House will be taking up the Farm Bill sometime in June, according the Boehner. Reach out to your Representatives in Congress now, and let them know the importance of the conservation compliance tie, and conservation title funding in general.
KWA has been working hard with our Mississippi River Collaborative partners and will continue to work hard to make sure the Conservation Title remains well-funded, and that the conservation compliance provision gets reattached to the crop insurance in the House and the joint Farm Bill. We know that, with the ongoing struggle to reduce nutrient pollution along the Mississippi River and in the Gulf of Mexico, we need these elements more than ever to help in the efforts to achieve the promises of the Clean Water Act.
Part of our advocacy on the Farm Bill has been getting the message to Senators and Representatives. Another part of our work on this has been through increasing the publicity on the issue. Check out some of our op-eds in various state newspapers: