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American Farmland Trust backs conservation compliance as requirement for subsidized crop insurance

The American Farmland Trust today announced its support for making conservation compliance a requirement for access to subsidized crop insurance, one day after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that he favors an incentive-based conservation system.
Jon Scholl

Jon Scholl
“I appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s support of conservation incentives, but I believe that he has created a false choice between incentive-driven conservation and conservation compliance,” said AFT President Jon Scholl in a new release.

“Conservation compliance is nothing more than an incentive for farmers with highly sensitive lands to follow a few basic conservation practices,” Scholl said. “When I talk to farmers, they recognize that conservation compliance is crucial for the long-term health of our soil.”

AFT was founded as an organization devoted to keeping land on the edge of cities in production, but has become active on farm policy as well as conservation issues.

At the present time, farmers who receive direct payments are required to comply with federal conservation requirements. With the likely demise of that program, the Environmental Working Group and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have said the conservation compliance requirement should be shifted to crop insurance.

Farm and crop insurance groups have said they oppose tying crop insurance eligibility to conservation compliance because crop insurance is delivered by private agents and that tying the two together would be difficult to manage.

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Scholl described conservation compliance, which was put in place in the 1985 bill, as “a set of minimum conservation standards that farmers with sensitive lands must follow in order to receive federal farm subsidies.”

Compliance, he said, “helps reduce erosion and protect our productive soils on the farmland that is most vulnerable to erosion, while also protecting wetlands. No farmer is required to follow conservation compliance, but if a farmer is not in compliance, USDA will temporarily withhold certain benefits — including commodity, disaster, and conservation payments and loans—until the farmer comes back into compliance.”

Compliance was attached to crop insurance subsidies in 1985, but was later removed in 1996 to encourage producers to purchase crop insurance. With 80 percent of farmers now participating in crop insurance, Scholl said, farmers say that the lack of a compliance requirement is no longer needed to encourage participation.

Conservation compliance has contributed 40 percent of the erosion reduction on our most vulnerable land since 1982, saving at least 295 million tons of soil per year, Scholl said, adding that with demand for agriculture production doubling by 2050 to meet the needs of a growing world population, "we cannot afford to lose our precious soil.”

Scholl also said that attaching compliance to the crop insurance premium support would have a “pretty minimal effect” on farmers.

“Farmers across the United States would still be able to buy crop insurance and get operating loans from their bank,” Scholl said.

“Anyone out of compliance simply wouldn’t receive the crop insurance premium support until they come back into compliance,” he said. “NRCS and FSA would still do compliance checks using the same system we have in place now, and crop insurance agents would not have an additional enforcement role.”