After 2 years of political wrangling, U.S. lawmakers and President Barack Obama have approved a 5-year Farm Bill, also known as the Agricultural Act of 2014.
Even if you don’t participate in the kinds of programs the Farm Bill funds, you should be encouraged with what’s taking place in Washington, and here’s why.
This Farm Bill, from what I’ve been told, is probably the strongest to be passed in decades in terms of conservation measures. The Conservation Title contains $56 billion for programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). That amount is more than the $44.4 million being spent on commodity support programs.
Does this spell a change in priorities among decision makers in Washington?
Vincennes, Ind., no-tiller Ray McCormick believes so. McCormick, who served on a special Farm Bill task force for the National Association of Conservation Districts, shared these insights about the Farm Bill:
The $89 billion taxpayers will spend on crop-insurance premiums for farmers will now be tied to conservation compliance, a rule that was removed in the mid-1990s.
Decisions on providing funding for technical assistance to farmers for programs like EQIP will now be made by the Secretary of Agriculture instead of the Office of Management and Budget, McCormick says. This should let NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation District agents spend less time on paperwork and more time helping farmers develop conservation plans.
- Some 23 different conservation programs have been streamlined into 13, which McCormick believes will reduce confusion and possibly make signups easier.
What seems to be most exciting, McCormick says, is that major influencers in agriculture are getting together in the same room to talk about conservation efforts.
This occurred yesterday at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health in Omaha, where NRCS Chief Jason Weller, no-till farmer and philanthropist Howard Buffett of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and several other stakeholders discussed efforts to pursue soil health in U.S. farming.
“National resource priorities are now with soil health, which is huge because the programs will be addressing soil-health issues — and no-till is one of the key components of building soil health,” McCormick says. “Cover crops, nutrient management, buffers, swath control, precision guidance and prescription farming is what we’re about, and it’s being driven by the Farm Bill.”
Let’s also note the USDA convened a task force last year to address conflicting rules about cover crops and crop insurance — a move that could, eventually, lead to increased cover-crop adoption.
McCormick says some attendees speaking during a national broadcast of the Omaha conference look forward to the day when landlords may ask a farmer why they’re not using cover crops, rather than why they’re using them. Will this pursuit of soil health mean that farmers will one day pay lower crop-insurance premiums if their no-till system saves more soil?
Even if you don’t rely on Farm Bill funding, perhaps some of your neighboring farmers will use these programs to embark on a successful no-till journey that you once made.