By Roz Brown, Public News Service - Iowa
Advocates of sustainable agriculture are urging Congress to pass a farm bill that backs stronger farming conservation practices.
Anna Johnson, policy program associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, says the recently introduced GROW Act, which stands for Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work, would maintain funding and acreage levels for the farm bill's three largest conservation programs: Conservation Stewardship, Environmental Quality Incentives and Conservation Reserve.
Johnson says any new bill should reward farmers who embrace conservation practices and those who enroll marginal agricultural lands for greater productivity.
"We find that these programs are really valuable for farmers and ranchers because it allows them to increase the level of conservation they have on their land while still maintaining production,” says Johnson, “without impacting their bottom line, that might be through cost share or through technical assistance."
The farm bill is revised every five years, and the current debate comes at a time when farm income is at its lowest point in 12 years. The 2014 farm bill is set to expire this September.
Johnson says the new farm bill should also reward farmers practicing conservation innovation when it comes to crop insurance policies. She notes that current rules require that farmers follow "good farming practices" to qualify for crop insurance, but they do not include conservation practices.
She says the next generation of farmers will need support to continue good stewardship practices.
"Soil conservation, soil health, water quality, water quantity, air quality, wildlife habitat,” she says, “so practices that work toward those goals, so that could mean planting cover crops to preserve soil health, planting pollinator strips for wildlife, doing conservation tillage, doing pasture management."
The first farm bill was created in 1933 and provided subsidies to farmers during the Great Depression.
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