AGRICULTURE: Push to Protect Prairies Hits Headwinds on Great Plains — Greenwire

Source: Greenwire (29 Nov 2017)
Author: Marc Heller
(Article Summarized by Meridian Institute) This article reports on the interplay between conservationists who want to see farmers who plant on native prairie pay more for crop insurance, and those who believe such measures trample on farmers’ rights. The issue is likely to come to a head during the debate over the next farm bill, with some arguing that the Sodsaver Initiative – which cuts crops insurance subsidies on previously uncultivated land in the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and Nebraska – should be expanded, and others who do not want any further regulation. Kevin Holle, a Kansas farmer who has plowed up native prairie to plant crops on his land, said, when told of the coming debate, “Half of this county is grass. How much more do they need? The federal government owns almost 28 percent of the U.S. Do they need to control everything I’m farming, just to say when I can break it out?” The debate, this article says, “over the prairie’s future is a story about farmers striving to make a living, energy companies sparring over the benefits and costs of biofuels that push farmers to plant more, sportsmen trying to preserve hunting grounds, and environmentalists struggling to make inroads in states where they’re overshadowed by agribusiness.” The World Wildlife Fund estimates the Great Plains lost 2.5 million acres of intact grassland to crop production from 2015 to 2016. What happens next, this article says, will likely depend on a handful of lawmakers in a congressional committee room; who’s in the room will make the difference. The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Pat Roberts (R-KS) is hesitant to tinker with crop insurance, but has not ruled out a Sodsaver provision. “In anticipation of the current farm bill discussion, some of my colleagues have proposed legislation that would modify and expand native sod protections nationwide,” Roberts said. “As we have heard at our farm bill field hearings and in comments from producers across rural America, crop insurance is a vital risk management tool for producers across the country. Thus, as I work with Ag Committee members and others to craft the next farm bill, we will want to ensure that any policy changes to crop insurance are sound and do not adversely impact the primary safety net for producers.” Senator John Thune (R-SD) wants to see Sodsaver become a national program, and has introduced legislation that would do just that. “I think there’s a good chance this time around,” he said. Advocates say the debate will hinge on gaining support from outside the Prairie Pothole region. Kanika Gandhi, a policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said she doesn’t see much middle ground on the issue. “Policies are either good, or they’re bad,” Gandhi said. “This is good.” more

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