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Free-Market Think Tank Calls for Mandatory On-Farm Conservation

Voluntary conservation, boosted by USDA’s cost-share programs, has “proved unable to achieve reduction in emissions large enough to meet water (quality) goals,” says the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The free-enterprise think tank advocates “mandatory adoption of practices that reduce runoff. Conservation programs in the farm bill could help farmers bear the regulatory burden in much the same way that EPA grants help fund sewage treatment.”

The AEI says conservation funding, which runs around $6 billion a year, “deserves to be maintained if not increased” in the 2018 farm bill and should be targeted at gaining the largest environmental benefit. Projects should be ranked nationwide based on each project’s aggregate value in improving stewardship at the watershed or landscape level. 

At present, conservation funds are divided at the county or state level. “The culture of USDA as an institution representing farm interests suggests that reorienting conservation spending toward national environmental priorities is unlikely without some pressure from outside the farm community,” says AEI.

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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