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Voluntary Conservation Isn’t Working, EWG Says

The environmental group that made its name by creating a database of farm subsidy recipients in 2002 is at it again, this time with a database of conservation payments. The Environmental Working Group says the nearly $30 billion spent on conservation in the past decade isn’t “leading to clean water, clean air, and a healthy environment.”

“A stronger conservation compliance provision should be top priority for Congress as lawmakers draft the new farm bill,” said EWG. Compliance has been tied to the farm program. EWG says “all subsidized growers,” including crop insurance clients, should do more to control runoff and drinking water.

In EWG’s view, the 2018 farm bill should shorten the list of practices eligible for conservation funding and focus on the most effective steps. “Moreover, conservation dollars should be concentrated on cooperative projects designed to get landowners to collaborate in deploying the right conservation practices in the right places,” said EWG.

The description sounds somewhat like the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which tackles problems on a watershed basis with local groups joining USDA in providing funds. The AGree farm policy project recommended two years ago that half of USDA conservation funding should be put into “producer-led, cooperative conservation projects in areas (watersheds) with significant resource concern.” 

EWG’s conservation data is not as detailed as its farm subsidy database. For conservation, EWG can track spending and practices to the county level but not to individuals; a limitation based on the material the group obtained from USDA over seven years with 28 Freedom on Information petitions.

This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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