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Looking at Conservation Compliance

The 2014 Farm Bill restores a link between conservation and crop insurance that Congress ended in 1996. Many farm groups originally fought the idea of restoring conservation compliance, but the new law will affect some growers.

In a brief interview during his visit to Iowa on April 22, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told that he believes the new requirement will affect several thousand farmers - most will not be affected. 

That seems to be the view of University of Illinois farm policy specialist Jonathan Coppess, who today posted on farmdoc Daily, his analysis of how the law is likely to work, with the caveat that USDA hasn't put out the rules on how this will work yet. However, Coppess is well qualified to make some educated guesses. He ran USDA's Farm Service Agency from 2009 through 2011, where he helped put the 2008 Farm Bill into effect. And, from 2011 through most of 2013, he was chief counsel for the Senate Agriculture Committee when the current law was being written.

"Producers who are currently in compliance for purposes of commodity or conservation programs in the farm bill should not have any issues with this linkage," Coppess writes in his analysis of the farm law's conservation rules for crop insurance.

It appears that no one will be affected by conservation compliance for 2014 crops. The Farm Bill was passed too late for its crop insurance provisions to start this year, so those rules won't kick in until 2015. After that, if you're found in violation of conservation rules, you could still buy crop insurance but without any premium subsidies.

Even then, you're not likely to be affected right away.

"Importantly for crop insurance premium assistance, ineligibility only applies in a forward-looking manner such that a person can only be ineligible in reinsurance years after the date that USDA has reached a final determination on the violation," Coppess writes. "Final determination in this setting means the person can first exhaust all administrative appeal rights before becoming ineligible and if that falls during the reinsurance year, the person becomes ineligible the following year. Ineligibility cannot, however, apply to existing or prior reinsurance years. These explicit provisions in the statute mean that ineligibility for crop insurance premium assistance only impacts future years; there is no authority to impact current or previous crop insurance policies or contracts."

The rules for highly erodible land conservation compliance and for wetlands conversion conservation compliance are different.

The law also protects tenants if a landlord refuses to comply with conservation rules. In that case, the tenant would retain the right to buy subsidized crop insurance on other farms. Only crops on the landlord's farm would be ineligible for the insurance subsidy.

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