U.S. Taxpayers Funding Prairie Grassland Destruction
The GAO report, “Impact of USDA Payments and Sodbuster on Grassland Conversions to Cropland,” says farm program payments contribute to grassland loss because “they reduce producers’ financial risks and, in many cases, increase producers’ profits over maintaining grassland.” According to the GAO, native prairie grasslands are being destroyed at taxpayer expense.
The GAO prepared the report for Senate and House committees working on a new farm bill.
The study found that farm program payments are twice as high per acre in South Dakota counties with high rates of native grassland conversion. “These are drought-prone areas,” says Scott Stephens, Ducks Unlimited’s director of conservation planning for the Great Plains Regional Office. “Crop failures are the norm rather than the exception. That grass is much more valuable for ranchers, wildlife and protecting soil and water quality.”
Ducks Unlimited says the GAO report justifies the need for the U.S. Senate to include a provision in the next farm bill to slow grassland loss. Loss rates of grasslands in the Prairie Pothole Region are about four times the rate of conversion of rainforest in the Amazon region of South America, Ducks Unlimited points out. The area hatches more ducks than anywhere else in the world.
Every five years a farm bill must be reauthorized by Congress, and the current farm bill expires at the end of September. The House of Representatives approved its version of the bill this summer and the Senate will now craft its version. The two versions will be reconciled by a conference committee before going to the President’s desk for signature.
Ducks Unlimited proposes a “Sodsaver” provision in the next farm bill that would eliminate federal subsidy support of any kind–including direct, counter-cyclical, loan deficiency, disaster and crop insurance payments–on any new cropland acres that are put into production as a result of breaking grassland that had no previous cropping history.
Farmers could still put the land into production but at their own risk, the group says.
“Price supports and crop insurance are necessary on high quality croplands,” Stephens said. “However, most of the native grasslands left would make poor cropland. It makes no sense, and the report agrees, for taxpayers to fund growing crops on these lands.”
Ducks Unlimited President Bruce Lewis says hunters and others who care about the outdoors should push for a conservation-friendly farm bill.
Source: Environment News Service