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Noem, Walz introduce prairie sodsaver bill

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., on Thursday introduced a bill that would prohibit commodity payments on newly broken native sod, and reduce federal subsidies for crop and revenue insurance by 50 percentage points on those acres.

The Senate farm bill includes a similar amendment that was introduced by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Mike Johanns, R-Neb.

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.
“South Dakota farmers already strike a healthy balance between agriculture production and conservation, and this legislation helps them continue that trend,” said Noem.

“It’s just common sense to reduce crop insurance assistance for less productive land that will save taxpayers money and help preserve critical habitat for pheasants, ducks, and other game species that help support South Dakota’s hunting industry,” Noem said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to include this legislation into the House version of the farm bill.”

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.
“This legislation is a win-win,” said Walz. “It will save taxpayer dollars and conserve critical wildlife habitat while allowing farmers to manage their lands as they see fit. By working together and promoting common sense conservation practices we can protect critical wildlife habitat, support our farmers, and support the hunting and fishing industry that is an integral part of our nation’s economy.”

The bill, called the Protect Our Prairies Act, immediately won praise from conservation and sportsmen's groups.

“The legislation introduced today by Representatives Noem and Walz illustrates a commitment to conserve native grasslands from legislators who represent areas, namely South Dakota and Minnesota, where significant tracts of these important habitats remain,” said Dan Wrinn, director of public policy for Ducks Unlimited.

“These areas help produce millions of waterfowl that migrate across the country, to the delight of hunters and wildlife watchers alike,” Wrinn said.

“In the past several years, high crop prices have increased the pressure on these fragile areas, but the sodsaver provision offered today helps alleviate some of that pressure in a way that leaves land-use decision making where it belongs: in the hands of landowners,” Wrinn said.

Land that has not been broken up for production is usually regarded as of marginal quality, and Steve Kline, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership's Center for Agricultural and Private Lands. He said the bill’s limitations on federal spending “helps strengthen the farm safety net by assuring that limited federal funds are used to sustain the most traditionally productive acres.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition noted that the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the provision would save taxpayers $194 million over 10 years.