Columbia, SC — Many of you know the farm bill as food stamps and farm subsidies, but the bill’s conservation provisions save millions of acres of wetlands, grasslands, forests and waterfowl and wildlife habitat. The U.S. House’s failure to pass the farm bill means these conservation programs will evaporate. Like many House members, I support major reforms or the elimination of the entitlement programs, but the conservation programs are critical and deserve our immediate attention.
Incentives to protect the land are paramount to ensuring that as land moves from owner to owner or generation to generation, it is not transformed in ways that harm clean water, abundant waterfowl, stable and nutrient-rich soils and productive farm lands. While farmers and ranchers are, largely, excellent stewards of the land, these programs provide even more incentive to conserve.
Wetlands not only provide habitat but also absorb water from heavy rains, preventing flooding, filtering water and removing contaminants, providing clean, safe and stable water supplies. Grasslands provide breeding grounds and nesting habitat for wildlife species as well as stability to the land, preventing erosion from eliminating nutrient-rich topsoil.
These programs are not just good for the environment; they are highly desirable to farmers and ranchers and save taxpayers money. The Wetlands Reserve program has three times more demand than available funding, and a national Sodsaver program saves taxpayers $200 million over 10 years. With most productive farmland already under production, these programs do not prevent farmers from realizing the full potential of their land; they encourage them to be stewards of their non-productive land.
This year, a groundbreaking partnership was struck between major crop-production organizations and conservation organizations to promote conservation. Many of these groups are run by the farmers and ranchers, and they support these initiatives. Why aren’t our legislators?
While my political beliefs are not well-aligned with most of the farm bill, I believe that action needs to be taken quickly to preserve these conservation programs. Whether through the farm bill or other legislation, these programs will shape the American landscape for generations to come and need to be part of our agricultural policy.
William F. Marscher IV
Hilton Head Island