Of the $956.4 billion doled out in The Agricultural Act of 2014 (better known as the “Farm Bill”), $56 billion will go to conservation programs over the next decade, according to Northwest Public Radio. These dollars go to some important energy and conservation programs, though some previously-funded ones will be eliminated. Note this is just one aspect of the farm bill, but read on.
According to Kevin Morse of The Nature Conservancy, one of the goals of the farm bill is to bring food production and conservation into harmony. After all, this is an ecology, you can’t affect one aspect of the environment without affecting others.
“We’ve got to find a way to harmonize our food production system with our conservation system, so we can feed people. And so we still have clean water for people to drink, and clean water to support our fisheries industry and our recreational industries,” says Morse.
One of the ways the farm bill does this is by setting aside easement land and habitat programs to protect wildlife and endangered species. Protecting waterways and streams is another.
The farm bill encourages this conservation by tying some of it to the availability of crop insurance. Farmers will need to make strides to conserve land and protect it from erosion if they want coverage.
Another incentive, farmers can be paid to not plant on certain sensitive landscapes, like where erosion is possible or where protected species may find refuge.
“It tries to compensate them for taking the cost of that land out of production,” explains Stephanie Page of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Finally, the bill protects virgin soil. Subsidies for farmers who choose to plant on previously un-planted land will be cut in half according to CNN.com.
Though programs like this are carried-over from years passed, they have been cut significantly in the 2014 version—by about $6 billion.
Not only conserving land, the bill also promotes sustainable energy, by putting $881 million into programs like solar and wind-generated power. The funding is mandatory, meaning the farmers will go through the application and planning processes knowing there’s a light at the other end. In years passed, this wasn’t the case.
While the farm bill is far from perfect, some of these conservation efforts are certainly commendable.