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[ Farm Bill Conservation Amendment Wins Unlikely Supporters ]

The U.S. House is expected to take up the next farm bill this week. There are big changes, as funding for many programs is being scaled back or eliminated, so stretching every dollar has become the focus of an amendment supported by groups that don’t usually agree.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and conservation groups are backing the Crop Insurance Accountability amendment, which ties conservation of soil and wetlands to the insurance subsidy – and all farm subsidies.

Julie Sibbing, director of agriculture and forestry programs at the National Wildlife Federation, said it rewards stewards of the land at a time when many conservation programs are being cut.

“We’re even more concerned about the basic conservation provisions that farmers deliver as a requirement of receiving subsidies,” she said, “because we have so little to go around in terms of protecting our soil, water and wildlife resources.”

The amendment, H.R. 2260, will be offered this week, and if it fails, the sponsors say they will push it as a separate bill. Farmers and ranchers who do not comply would still be able to purchase the crop coverage but would be responsible for 100 percent of the premium.

Aside from the financial component, Sibbing said, soil and wetlands conservation is a type of insurance on its own to keep progress in place for waterway improvements and a cleaner Chesapeake Bay.

“We’re really worried about it getting worse if you don’t have good soil conservation practices in place on the land, and if you drain wetlands,” she said. “Wetlands are often intercepting the agricultural chemicals.”

Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River provides half of the freshwater inflow to Chesapeake Bay. Sibbing said cleaning up the bay, which has been a focus in recent years, can help keep progress on the right path.

Leaders of the American Farm Bureau Federation had argued against linking subsidies to conservation last year, but president Bob Stallman says they changed their mind and now view the plan as “rational.”

A list of groups supporting the legislation is online at mikethompson.house.gov. The text of the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., is online at govtrack.us.

Source: Keystone State News Connection

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