Finally, we have a federal Farm Bill! President Obama signed the long-awaited bill into law on February 7, bringing an end to a multi-year effort to pass the legislation. And fortunately, the environmental community has something to celebrate: conservation compliance was re-linked to federal crop insurance subsidies!
The relinkage of conservation compliance to crop insurance means that more farms will be developing and implementing conservation plans. These plans require farmers to preserve wetlands and reduce erosion, which in turn benefit water quality and wildlife habitat.
The Farm Bill also includes the conservation easement and cost-share programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These programs provide technical and financial assistance to farmers who voluntarily adopt conservation practices such as cover crops and buffer strips.
Since 2011, Prairie Rivers Network has been working to educate the public and legislators on the importance of enabling and requiring agricultural stewardship in the Farm Bill. We held workshops, wrote letters to the editor, had meetings with legislators, and took other actions to achieve our conservation goals. Thanks to our members who responded to our action alerts and reached out to their representatives on this issue.
Of course, much more work remains to be done to increase the prevalence of agricultural stewardship to the scale needed to clean up Illinois rivers and lakes. The Farm Bill is certainly not the answer to all of Illinois’ agriculture-related water quality problems, but it is an important tool in the toolbox. Achieving environmental victories in the Farm Bill gives us the credibility and precedent to achieve victories elsewhere.