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2023 Farm Bill: Feeding the nation through working lands conservation

It’s often said that food security is national security. And no single piece of legislation has more impact on ensuring the security of America’s food supply than the farm bill. Every five years, Congress examines funding for this comprehensive package, including new and existing policies that ensure a safety net for farmers and ranchers and policies that address risk management tools for farmers, trade, rural development, conservation programs, investments in agricultural research and much more. It’s a must-pass piece of legislation that affects the agriculture supply chain from production all the way to consumption.

And these days, many producers may consider themselves equal parts farmers and conservationists — that’s for good reason. To sustain their production, many farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses voluntarily invest in conservation programs that help maintain the landscape and provide economic and financial flexibility for their operation.

Feeding the nation is a risky and expensive business, but several farm bill programs exist to not only support the producers but also provide a multitude of benefits for local communities and wildlife habitats. Through working lands programs, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, the farm bill incentivizes voluntary conservation practices that address resource and habitat concerns while keeping land in production.

Many of the wetlands that are most important to waterfowl exist on agricultural landscapes, making farmers and ranchers important stewards of America’s land and water. But responsible land stewardship does more than protect habitat — it safeguards the livelihood of producers and supports our rural communities.

Farming is often a family business, after all, and voluntary working lands programs give farmers the financial flexibility they need on land that is sometimes unprofitable, affording them the economic freedom to add value, improve soil health and keep the land in their family for generations. Keeping farms in business and active in their communities makes an immeasurable impact on local economies.

When wetlands are conserved and protected through the farm bill’s voluntary conservation programs, the whole community benefits. It creates a more resilient landscape that offers protection from flooding, increased water storage, improved water quality and much more.

The relationship between agriculture and conservation has evolved into one of immense mutual benefit. While the primary focus of farm bill conservation programs is to improve our soil, water and wildlife habitat, they also significantly improve our nation’s capacity to produce food, fiber and other resources.

Federal agricultural policies incentivize producers to cultivate productive lands while minimizing the impacts on wetlands and soils in exchange for eligibility for certain federal farm program benefits, such as crop insurance. This partnership between cropping and conservation has helped provide an effective safety net for America’s farmers, ensuring a reliable food supply for consumers and conserving crucial habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife.

The farm bill is one of the few remaining bipartisan endeavors left in Washington, and it’s critically important to the livelihood of farmers and ranchers, rural economies, wildlife conservation and our nation’s food supply. With a continued focus on agricultural conservation in the 2023 Farm Bill package, Congress can demonstrate its intent to support the men and women who feed our nation while facilitating the collaborative work championed by conservation organizations.

Former Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) is the CEO of the nonprofit conservation wetland organization Ducks Unlimited. Putnam served five terms in Congress from 2001 to 2011 and also served as Florida agriculture commissioner.

Tags 2023 Farm Bill Adam Putnam Agriculture Conservation farm bill wildlife

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