Friday, 2 March 2012

Soil conservation in the US: the highs and lows

Soil conservation has hit the news in the United States in recent days. The Environmental Working Group reports that most farmers support the long-standing conservation compact that has helped protect the rich soil and clean water that sustain food, farming and public health. This was the 1985 Farm Bill, under which growers agreed to keep soil from washing away and chemicals out of waterways in return for generous taxpayer support. Seven polls taken in the last 30 years show that a solid majority of farmers believe that bargain is a fair one.

Politico reports that EWG's report also finds that early progress reducing soil erosion has stalled and in some states like Iowa, losses have even increased — all in a time of record farm income. “The gold rush in farm country is putting unprecedented pressure on our soil and water,” is the report’s opening salvo. “Now more than ever, the nation needs a reinvigorated and strengthened conservation compact.”

EWG reports that that high prices, intense competition for farmland leases and ethanol mandates have put unprecedented pressure on land and water. As a result, the historic gains in soil conservation the compact achieved are being lost.

“Conservation is once again being pushed to the back seat – the very situation that led to the compact in the first place,” said EWG Senior Vice President Craig Cox. “We need to reinvigorate the compact just to keep things from getting worse, let alone make long-overdue progress on pollution problems that have gone unchecked for decades.”

In the negotiations over a 2012 farm bill, agribusiness lobbyists are pushing their allies in Congress to gut the conservation compact entirely, with dire consequences for the environment and public health.

On the same day that the EWG report was published, the Times and Demorcat reported that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced a new conservation initiative to protect up to 750,000 acres of the nation’s most highly erodible croplands. The new initiative will assist producers with targeting their most highly erodible cropland by enabling them to plant wildlife-friendly, long-term cover through the Conservation Reserve Program.