Sodsaver Provision in Farm Bill Would Help Address Major Loss of Grassland

Recent USDA data finds that, in 2012 alone, nearly 400,000 acres of grassland and other newly broken land were converted to cropland nationally. Nebraska led the way with over 54,000 acres of new land broken out for cropland.

Our analysis of the Farm Service Agency data, collected for the first time in 2012, reveals the importance of including a national Sodsaver provision in the Farm Bill. Some will argue that high commodity prices, not federally subsidized crop insurance, has been the driver behind the loss of grassland. We would suggest that even while high commodity prices are likely the leading factor, federally subsidized crop insurance is certainly an incentive by providing a guaranteed revenue stream on those acres.

A national Sodsaver provision would help address the significant loss of grasslands by ratcheting down the subsidy and guarantee level on federal crop insurance for cropland converted from native prairie.

Our analysis demonstrates that of the five states with the most acres of land converted – Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Florida, and Iowa – only two have small portions of the state in the Prairie Pothole Region. Most of the states near the top of the list, and a majority of converted acres, are outside that region.

The Senate’s Farm Bill includes a national Sodsaver provision. Thanks to Senator John Thune (R-SD) for leading the introduction of the Protect our Prairies Act, and six other senators who signed on and supported it – Senators Johanns (R-NE), Brown (D-OH), Bennet (D-CO), Durbin (D-IL), Harkin (D-IA), and Klobuchar (D-MN). Because of their efforts, this act was adopted as part of the Senate’s Farm Bill.

The House version includes a Sodsaver provision as well, but it is limited to the portions of five states that are in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Great Plains, despite the efforts of Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and 20 other cosponsors who called for a national provision.

This data could not be more timely for the farm bill debate, nor could it more clearly make the case for a national Sodsaver provision. Limiting the Sodsaver provision to the five-state Prairie Pothole Region would provide inadequate protection for native grassland. That’s why, at the end of the day, the Senate’s Sodsaver provision should be the one included in the final Farm Bill.