The Farm Bill - A Primer (Part 1 of 3)

 

If any news is good news, it’s that the Senate has passed a decent version of the Farm Bill.  It is currently on its way to the House of Representatives, and GRN, the Mississippi River Collaborative and our partners throughout the Gulf and Mississippi River watershed, have our fingers crossed: A good Farm Bill can be beneficial to our nation’s bread basket, our farmers, our fishermen, and our waters.

Erosion51Eroding farmland sends sediment and pollution into our nation's waterways. Photo courtesy of USDA.The bill could have a huge impact on conservation.  The Gulf is largely celebrating the Senate’s removal of many anti-clean-water amendments, for example one amendment permitted pesticide discharge.  For now, the amendment has been removed.  There were also a number of additions like H.R. 872, the "Reduced Regulatory Burdens Act," which would have revoked federal permission to monitor our waterways for pollution, and genetically engineered crops for safe breeding.  Had these amendments stayed in the bill, they would have overturned some long-standing (and long fought-for) clean water rulings.    

As our loyal readers know, the Dead Zone is largely caused by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution contained in farm fertilizer runoff.  The Farm Bill is an important tool to reduce this runoff.  After a recent amendment process, the bill mandates that less money (subsidies) be given to damaged and in turn un-plantable land giving farmers incentive to not till up this land that is the biggest culprit for high levels of runoff, eroding our nation's topsoil, and serving as a conduit for pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, to enter our waterways.

The bill also saves the Conservation Reserve, which aided Louisiana’s dwindling prairies, and the Stewardship Programs, which have helped save a few species (one being the reddish egret) and help farmers keep their land usable on the long term. The bill will also insist that before tax dollars go towards the farming of highly erodable land, which is a particular runoff culprit, there must be a conservation plan implemented.   

For all conservation practices, there will be a required report for each project funded by the Conservation Innovation Grant Program, its results and how it has been incorporated into conservation practices.  

The 2012 Farm Bill may not yet be in effect—it still has to go through the House and conference committee—but  currently the Senate version has some good things in it.  Ideally, it will improve natural food resources around the country-- not to mention help reduce Dead Zone-causing pollution and in turn bring the Gulf of Mexico a little bit closer to its former splendor.

Jacob Dilson is GRN's Media and Communications Intern.

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