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NRCS chiefs back conservation compliance for crop insurance

Four former chiefs of the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service have told congressional agriculture leaders that the new farm bill should require farmers participating in the subsidized crop insurance program to comply with USDA conservation rules.

“As you take steps to modernize our farm safety net, we urge you to make sure conservation compliance provisions cover all income support, including eligibility for crop and revenue insurance premium subsidies,” the letter said. “Doing so will benefit farmers, the environment and all Americans going forward.”

The letter was signed by William Richards, the chief of the old Soil Conservation Service from 1990 to 1993, Paul Johnson, the NRCS chief from 1994 to 1997, Arlen Lancaster, the chief from 2002 to 2006 and Bruce Knight, the chief from 2006 to 2009, and sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the agriculture committees.

“When conservation compliance was enacted as a part of the 1985 farm bill, it sparked a decade of unprecedented progress in limiting erosion, cleaning up waterways and protecting wetlands,” the four former chiefs wrote.

“In exchange for farm program benefits, farmers agreed to adopt land management practices to reduce soil erosion and protect remaining wetlands on their cropland,” the letter said.

“As a result, soil erosion was cut by 40 percent on 140 million acres of cropland. Productivity was improved, drinking water protected and streams ran clearer in agricultural watersheds. Conservation compliance has contributed to a more sustainable agriculture and served both farmers and the environment very well. It must be continued," the letter said.

"Today, high prices driven by strong demand for our commodities are boosting farm income but putting enormous pressure on our land and water resources. Maintaining the current conservation compliance provisions, which are both effective and achievable, is essential to our efforts to maintain the conservation gains of recent decades.”

The Senate farm bill mark requires conservation compliance for farmers to get program crop subsidies, but does not require it for participation in the crop insurance program. The 1985 farm bill did require conservation compliance for crop insurance participation, but the requirement was later dropped to encourage more farmers to sign up for crop insurance.