The Senate approved the Farm Bill conference report 68-32, a week after the House of Representatives also approved the report. Congress now sends a federal Farm Bill to President Obama’s desk for signature, marking the end of more than two years of struggle to get the legislation passed. The Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance applauds the leadership from both the House and Senate Agriculture committees for shepherding this critical legislation to passage and standing up for sportsmen across the country with a strong conservation title.
This Farm Bill addresses many key priorities of sportsmen. For the first time since 1994, conservation compliance will be coupled with subsidized crop insurance payments. This common sense compliance will ensure that producers receiving money from taxpayers are not using that money to drain wetlands or let soil erode. “Recoupling conservation compliance to crop insurance payments was among sportsmen’s greatest priority for this Farm Bill,” said BMSA director Gaspar Perricone.
The bill also establishes a Sodsaver program in six Great Plains states aimed at protecting native prairie habitat. In Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, farmers that break native ground for row crop production will not be eligible for federally subsidized crop insurance. The conservation community had hoped that the bill would establish a national Sodsaver program, but also recognized the imperative of protecting threatened prairie habitat in the Great Plains that are vital for upland birds, big game, and most of the continent’s waterfowl. “The habitat that will be protected with this Sodsaver provision includes the famed prairie potholes that hatch and grow the vast majority of the migratory waterfowl that sportsmen hunts each fall,” noted Perricone.
A voluntary habitat access program commonly known as Open Fields was also reauthorized to the tune of $40 million annually. Established in the 2008 Farm Bill, Open Fields provides incentives for landowners to implement and practice sound conservation measures, while also providing access for hunters and anglers. “This program is the definition of a win-win for sportsmen,” said Jared Mott, Policy Director for BMSA. “Incentivizing conservation while creating access for hunters and anglers where none existed has to be a highlight of any list of this Farm Bill’s accomplishments.”
Part of this Farm Bill’s $23 billion in savings over ten years comes
from the consolidation of many conservation title programs. Sportsmen will recognize many of the programs still functioning under the title, such as the critical Conservation Reserve Program. But the new Agricultural Easement Program consolidates many of the easement programs from the last farm bill, such as the Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program. The new easement program will continue to incentivize landowners to conserve vital habitat on their properties. “Every sportsmen knows the importance of CRP and it was critical that it continue to be an option for conservation minded landowners and producers,” said Perricone.