Conservation Compliance Legislation Introduced in House

Reps. Mike Thompson, Jeff Fortenberry Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Enhance Conservation and Incentivize Responsible Farming Practices

U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA-5) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) today introduced H.R. 2260, The Crop Insurance Accountability Act of 2013. The bipartisan legislation enhances conservation by incentivizing responsible farming practices. Under this legislation, in order for farmers to qualify for taxpayer subsidies of crop insurance, they must meet basic conservation requirements that minimize the impact to some of our most sensitive areas such as highly erodible lands and wetlands.

            “It’s important that American farmers have a strong and reliable safety net, and that’s why American taxpayers invest heavily in crop insurance,” said Thompson. “But it’s also important that farmers take steps to protect and conserve our wetlands and highly erodible lands for the benefit of everyone. By relinking crop insurance subsidy assistance to basic conservation compliance measures, we can continue providing that important safety net while also protecting some of our most sensitive areas.”

            “Our farmers and ranchers are the first stewards of the land. This bill continues the practice of conservation planning for our most fragile lands to ensure we meet important environmental stewardship goals,” said Fortenberry. “This concept is widely upheld as an important conservation initiative by many in the ag and environmental communities. I look forward to its passage or inclusion in this year’s Farm Bill.”

            The bipartisan Crop Insurance Accountability Act of 2013 would:

● Apply to annually-tilled crops grown on highly erodible lands (HEL) or any crops in wetlands, as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA);

● Require farmers in these areas to file a conservation plan with USDA that states how they will reduce and offset impacts in these areas;

● Require farmers to be in compliance according to their USDA-approved conservation plan in order to receive federal subsidies for their crop insurance premiums;

● Delay the date for producers to come into compliance who are subject to conservation compliance for the first time for five years;

● Allow for all appeal processes to be exhausted before farmers are found to be out of compliance; and

● Provide exemptions for circumstances beyond the farmer’s control and actions taken in good faith.

            Currently, crop insurance for farmers is subsidized by an average of 62 percent.  The Crop Insurance Accountability Act would require farmers to meet a certain conservation compliance standard to continue qualifying for subsidized crop insurance.  If a farmer chooses not to participate in conservation compliance or is found to be out of compliance, they may still purchase crop insurance but would be responsible for 100 percent of the insurance premium.

            Since the 1985 Farm Bill, conservation compliance has been required for participation in many farm bill programs. The 1996 Farm Bill disconnected conservation compliance from crop insurance premium subsidies and instead tied it to the direct payments, or fixed payments, farmers receive every year based on their lands production history. The proposed 2013 Farm Bill (H.R. 1947) has essentially eliminated direct payments, and in doing so has also ended conservation compliance requirements for many of those crops and lands. The Crop Insurance Accountability Actre-links conservation compliance measures to crop insurance premium subsidies.

            “It is no secret that much of agriculture fought the conservation compliance linkage requirement during last year’s debate on the farm bill,” said Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “But our desire to avoid a time-consuming and contentious debate with our long-standing partners on workable environmental stewardship programs helped build a consensus around rational provisions that protect farmers while furthering the conservation of natural resources.”

            “The Crop Insurance Accountability Act closes a dangerous loophole which threatens soil and water quality as well as habitat for fish and wildlife. By linking key soil and wetlands protections to federal crop insurance premium subsidies, this bill will help to ensure that in exchange for receiving taxpayer-funded subsidies, farmers help to protect wetlands and reduce soil erosion on their land,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

            “Farmers and ranchers deserve a safety net against severe weather and natural disasters,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall. “But it’s just as crucial to make sure that crop insurance isn’t an incentive to destroy wetlands and grasslands that protect drinking water, mitigate the impacts of floods and provide habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. The Crop Insurance Accountability Act ensures the continuation of these basic conservation measures. Congressmen Fortenberry and Thompson are trying to protect our nation’s wetlands and highly erodible lands with this bill. Ducks Unlimited stands among the many conservation, agriculture and taxpayer protection organizations who appreciate their leadership.”

            H.R. 2260 has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture.