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Different Versions of Farm Bill Pass House and Senate Ag Committees

May 20th, 2013

The Farm Bill is the largest piece of conservation legislation in the nation, and Congress is working through this year’s version after they failed to pass one last year. A key component that conservationists are working toward is called “conservation compliance,” which ties conservation responsibilities to crop insurance subsidies rather than direct payments.

The direct payment model for conservation compliance wasn’t working because high corn prices were more than farmers would receive for keeping land out of production to provide wildlife habitat. Conservation compliance instead conditions federal subsidies for crop insurance, which farmers use to hedge against a sharp drop-off in crop prices between planting and harvesting, to conservation responsibilities like maintaining wetland habitat for wildlife.

Tying conservation requirements to crop insurance premium subsidies accomplishes multiple benefits. For one, the federal government (and taxpayers) save on the cost of paying farmers direct subsidies, which both the Senate and House eliminated from their versions of this year’s bills last week.

Next, for the crop insurance premium subsidies that farmers do receive from the government (the public) conservation compliance ensures that the public gets something specific in return – habitat for the public’s wildlife, in addition to making sure we all have food to eat.  This makes conservation compliance fiscally responsible in both reducing government expenditures and providing greater public benefit in return for the public’s investment in insurance premium subsidies.

The Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D), included conservation compliance in its version of the 2013 Farm Bill. However, the House’s version did not. The full Senate is expected to consider its version of the Farm Bill this week, with the House expected to take up their version in June.

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