Izaak Walton League Publications

The 2012 Farm Bill: Stewardship, Prosperity, and Fairness

For agriculture to best serve America’s needs in the 21st century, we need a modern national farm policy that will continue to sustain our farms, our lands, and our people. Such a policy must guide the 2012 Farm Bill and provide economic, conservation, and community benefits through

  • Stewardship of the land, water, and wildlife by farmers who are invested in their land and farm operations.
  • Prosperity of rural economies, which is dependent on thriving farm opportunities and healthy natural resources.
  • Diversity of agriculture and support for all types of farms, products, and resources.
  • Fairness to small and independent farmers by recognizing the importance of keeping farming a viable occupation with opportunity for beginning and young farmers.
  • Security of America’s food supply.

We know that farm policy, both as it is assembled in Congress and as it is delivered on the ground, is incredibly diverse but entirely interdependent. We cannot expect significant success if we deal with only one part of farm policy, such as conservation, while ignoring others, such as rural economic development and production payments. To develop effective farm policy, it is also vital that we recognize the impacts of the policy on the nation as a whole.

This document describes the Farm Bill, outlines how federal agricultural policy is structured and administered, and explains the Izaak Walton League’s solution-oriented steps for reauthorizing a 2012 Farm Bill that supports stewardship, prosperity, and fairness.

To achieve stewardship, prosperity, and fairness in the 2012 Farm Bill, our policy choices must recognize and respond to the convergence of several factors.

As market prices for commodity program crops remain consistently high, fewer producers are receiving traditional production subsidies. Instead, more traditional subsidies are being replaced by crop insurance as the primary vehicle for delivering public money to agricultural producers. Because this subsidy does not require even basic conservation measures that have accompanied other farm subsidies for decades, soil and water resources are increasingly put at substantial risk. At the same time, as the cost of conservation goes up with spiraling land values, conservation program funding has been consistently and continually cut, and efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit are likely to lead to even deeper cuts in federal funding for conservation programs in the future.

National conservation efforts and the natural resources they were intended to protect are in jeopardy.

The League has identified several focused, cost-effective policy actions that will help meet these challenges. Our proposals continue the long-term modernization of national farm policy that sustains our farms, our lands, and our people.

The 2012 Farm Bill must:

1) Re-establish the original connection between conservation compliance and federal crop insurance premium subsidies so that all existing and new crop and revenue insurance and other risk management programs are subject to all existing and new conservation compliance provisions.

2) Enact a nationwide “Sodsaver” provision to prohibit federal farm program and crop insurance subsidies on parcels converted to production from native land that does not have a prior cropping history.

3) Ensure conservation programs achieve real conservation results and receive fair treatment with respect to all other authorized Farm Bill spending programs by

  • Maintaining the unique purposes of the conservation title’s suite of conservation programs. 
  • Establishing continuing-baseline status for all conservation program spending, as exists for commodity and crop insurance programs. 
  • Ensuring no changes are made in annual mandatory spending.

These priorities can be implemented within existing federal policy in immediate response to current economic, social, and environmental conditions. Success is achievable without radical reforms or inflated spending. And, most important, by taking these modest steps to protect and enhance our nation’s natural resources, we will promote sustainable agricultural production, conserve fish and wildlife habitat, and continue to provide economic opportunities for all Americans.

Read more about these policy priorities in the full 2012 Farm Bill report (1.7MG PDF).

The 2012 Farm Bill: Stewardship, Prosperity, and Fairness
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