Keystone Cops Overseeing The Conservation Compliance Program?

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Three decades ago, farmers reached a deal with taxpayers: farmers would reduce erosion on “highly erodible lands” and protect wetlands in exchange for generous government subsidies. 

Taxpayers held up their end of the bargain. Since 1995, we’ve provided growers with more than $300 billion in various subsidies. 

Have farmers held up their end? 

According to the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it’s hard to tell. 

A report last month detailed a broken system in which USDA departments charged with reviewing whether growers are meeting the requirements of “conservation compliance” have fallen down on the job. In particular, USDA apparently failed to review whether farmers in 10 states, including Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri, were doing their part. 

“USDA participants in these 10 states received over $4 billion in FSA [Farm Service Agency) and NRCS [Natural Resources Conservation Service] program payments for FY 2014. We asked both agencies about the reason they either missed, or neglected to follow up on, the missing state data; neither was able to supply an answer,” according to the report by the USDA’s Inspector General’s office. 

Overall, the Inspector General found that USDA can’t be sure whether the reviews conducted between 2012 and 2015 – a period when taxpayers paid out more than $20 billion in subsidies – reflect the reality of what’s happening on the landscape. 

In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “When there's a justification and reason for [Inspector General’s] criticism, we take it very seriously.”

On behalf of taxpayers and the environment, let’s hope so.


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