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Ag groups back conservation compliance

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 05/09/2013 @ 7:02am Business Editor

A coalition of conservation groups and farm and commodity organizations has agreed to back linking conservation compliance to eligibility for crop insurance premium subsidies in the Senate's 2013 farm bill.

"We're somewhat excited at where we're at and at how much ground we've crossed over to get to this point," said Earl Garber, president of the National Association of Conservation Districts. NACD has been a supporter of conservation rules for crop insurance that are similar to those required for USDA commodity programs, but it has had concerns about the financial effect on farmers as well.

"You have to keep your landowners and producers viable financially," Garber said.

In return for supporting relinking rules against farming highly erodible land and wetlands in return for crop insurance support, commodity groups got a concession from conservationists: the coalition opposes any means testing, payment limits or reductions on premium subsidies for high-income farmers

Last year, when the Senate agriculture committee wrote a farm bill, it had neither conservation compliance nor cuts in insurance subsidies to large farms. When the committee bill was passed in the full Senate, an amendment sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) was added that would reduce premium subsidies by 15 percentage points for farm owners with more than $750,000 in adjusted gross income. Another amendment sponsored by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) tied conservation compliance to crop insurance, something that had been a requirement in the 1985 farm bill but was dropped in the 1996 law when Congress mandated carrying crop insurance to be eligible for disaster payments. Last year's bill was introduced as a starting point for a 2013 bill by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in January.

Garber said he's not certain if the new compromise language will be in the draft of farm bill that will be released by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) before the committee meets next Tuesday to vote on a bill. He's optimistic that it will be included somehow, since it was Stabenow's committee staffers who urged the groups to work on a compromise.

The coalition of 32 organizations includes major farm groups such as American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, and National Farmers Union. Other conservation groups backing it are Pheasants Forever, National Wildlife Federation, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. The American Association of Crop Insurers supports it as well.

Groups that have worked to get compliance relinked, including American Farmland Trust, also signed on to a letter sent to Stabenow. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) did not.

"Conservation accountability should apply to the entire farm safety net.  Reasonable limits and actively engaged in farming rules should apply to all crop subsidies," NSAC policy director Ferd Hoefner said in a message sent late Monday. "These are fundamental principles supported by the farmers we represent.  We therefore do not support the deal. We may not even support the conservation portion of the deal which appears to include major loopholes, though we will need to see actual legislative language before making a definitive judgment on that score.  We will continue to pursue amendments that support both bedrock principles as the farm bill process continues."

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Will Farmers Withdraw? 05/07/2013 @ 10:21pm I've found less and less benefit from USDA programs in the past years and am now participating in none but crop insurance. If I am required to practice conservation compliance to use crop insurance it will be tempting to drop it. My waterways and contour and puffer strips are generous. Crop land is worked by no-till. The government will gain nothing by my participation but I will lose flexibility and freedom.

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