The Farm Bill is our nation’s biggest and most important environmental initiative for private working lands, protecting farmland, improving water quality and providing wildlife habitat. Farm Bill conservation programs have strong track records. For example, a recent study by American Farmland Trust and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that farmland conservation easements authorized through the Farm Bill improve agricultural viability, encourage on-farm conservation, and help farmers gain access to land.
Simply extending the old Farm Bill for another year is not good enough. Proposed Farm Bill policy reforms, including reattaching conservation compliance to crop insurance premium subsidies, would help drastically reduce soil erosion and protect fragile wetlands. Historically, conservation compliance has saved more than 295 million tons of soil annually and protected more than 3 million acres of wetlands. The new Farm Bill should build upon these successes.
Congressional inactivity threatens the ability of farmers to stay on the land, placing more farmland in danger of development. Since 1982, the U.S. has lost more than 23 million acres of farmland to sprawling development, and there are no signs that this trend is abating. With the world’s population growing, American’s farms and ranches are under pressure to feed billions more people on a diminishing land base.
Finally, 21st century agriculture must grapple with the dramatic weather shifts and prolonged periods of drought punctuated with flash flooding that come with global climate change. We owe it to our family farmers to fund Farm Bill programs that help respond to and overcome these challenges.
American Farmland Trust led a campaign that resulted in more than 25 thousand letters to members of Congress supporting completion of the Farm Bill. There is clearly support across the country for getting the bill done with strong conservation measures in place.
It’s the bottom of the ninth with two outs and runners are in scoring position. We need a new, comprehensive Farm Bill that reinvests in our natural resources, advances conservation, and helps farmers stay on the land. There is too much at stake to allow Congress to simply turn its back on these important programs. Congress should step up to the plate and do the work needed to clinch the Farm Bill.
McElwaine is president and CEO of American Farmland Trust, the nation’s leading conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land.