Unlimited Subsidies, High Prices Threaten “Prairie Potholes”
Environmental Working Group released maps that highlight how expanding crop production is driving the loss of prairie grasslands and wetlands, particularly in the “prairie pothole” region of North and South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa. The maps were compiled using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The area planted to corn and soybeans between 2008 and 2011 increased by more than 75,000 acres per county in many counties in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota and by more than 200,000 acres in three counties in eastern North Dakota.
High crop prices combined with unlimited insurance subsidies have encouraged farmers to plow up grasslands and drain wetlands. About 16.6 million acres of remaining wetlands are on cropland and pasture, making them highly vulnerable to being drained to expand cultivation.
Congress can ensure we protect these vulnerable areas by renewing the conservation compact under which farmers agree to implement basic practices to stem soil erosion in return for farm subsidies. Lawmakers should link this requirement to the bloated crop insurance program and strengthen voluntary conservation programs.
Speaking of the conservation compact, Chris Clayton of DTN has a great piece on the lack of emphasis on sustainability in the Senate agriculture committee’s farm bill proposal and why conservation obligations should be a part of any new farm policy.
The National Journal reports that the proposal cuts $4 billion from nutrition, leaving funding for the program “largely untouched” (compared to the $33 billion cut in the House version). Struggling families should not have to take a hit, while the heavily subsidized and expensive crop insurance program escapes the budget knife.
Examiner’s Kimberly Lord Stewart has more on the growing footprint for organic food and beverages. The industry has grown 9.5 percent since last year and is valued at $31.5 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association.
The Green Plate penned a blog titled “Farm Bill Draft Spells Out Business As Usual – Or Worse.” Its characterization is right on.
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