Enacting Sod Saver could help save Dakota Grasslands

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Enacting Sod Saver could help save Dakota Grasslands

Postby feathhd » Fri Mar 01, 2013 12:18 pm


The link above takes you right to a prepared letter and automatic submission contact points.

But here are some of the facts on the issue.

Native Prairie and Grasslands at Risk
The last remnants of native grassland across the country, especially in the northern plains, are increasingly at risk of being plowed under for commodity crop production (corn, soybeans, etc.). These grasslands - which support the ranching economy, provide essential habitat for at least 50 percent of the waterfowl in North America, and dramatically reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff - must be protected.

A June 2011 study by the USDA Economic Research Service concluded that nearly 60 percent of the total nationwide conversion of grassland and range to crop production between 1997 and 2007 occurred in the northern plains states, including North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Montana. A January 2013 analysis by South Dakota State University researchers reached similar conclusions, finding that 1.3 million acres of grassland had been converted in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa between 2006 and 2011.

Conversion of grasslands to crop production has accelerated over the last decade as high commodity prices lead farmers to maximize acres under production to take advantage historically high commodity prices. Although these lands have marginal value for commodity crop production, they have significant environmental and habitat values. The native grasslands of the northern plains are necessary to the livelihoods of ranching families. Prairie grasslands also provide critical breeding and nesting areas for migratory waterfowl, song birds, and other wildlife.

Current Farm Policy Encourages Grassland Destruction
Although multiple factors contribute to converting grassland to crop production, it is clear that under current federal farm policy, subsidized crop insurance premiums is one of the most significant. Under existing farm policy, producers can receive heavily subsidized insurance on cropland converted from native prairie - and can even ensure crop yields (such as bushels of corn per acre) well above what could reasonably be produced on those lands.

This policy removes most of the financial risk a producer would otherwise face when planting crops on land that is subject to serious erosion and flooding or simply has poor soil - and it effectively acts as a disincentive to conservation. With the public assuming much of the risk through the cost of crop insurance premium subsidies and insurance pay-outs, current policy contributes to conversion of rapidly disappearing grassland resources.

Sodsaver Protects Native Land and Taxpayer Wallets
A nationwide Sodsaver program, which the League has championed for many years, will help conserve native lands and protect taxpayers' interests. Sodsaver is based on the simple premise that taxpayers should not support activities that undermine achieving critical conservation goals. The Sodsaver program included in the Senate's 2012 Farm Bill would have helped to address this problem by dramatically reducing subsidies for crop insurance premiums and limiting the yield that can be calculated for land without a prior cropping history. A geographically limited version of Sodsaver was also passed by the House Committee on Agriculture in their version of the 2012 Farm Bill.

Unfortunately, action stalled in the House of Representatives, and a 2012 Farm Bill was not enacted. Recently, Representatives Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Tim Walz of Minnesota re-introduced Sodsaver legislation through the Protect Our Prairies Act (HR 686) that is identical to provisions adopted by the Senate last year. Seven House members signed as co-sponsors of this new bill, including all four leaders of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus (Reps. Bob Latta of Ohio, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Tim Walz of Minnesota, and Rob Wittman of Virginia) and Rep. Colin Peterson of Minnesota, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Agriculture.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which provides Congress with nonpartisan and objective analysis of the cost of federal programs, estimates the Sodsaver provisions included in the Senate's version of the 2012 Farm Bill could generate as much as $200 million in savings over a 10 year period. The savings result when federal crop insurance premium subsidies are reduced to producers who choose to convert native grassland to crop production. We anticipate similar savings would result from the Protect Our Prairies Act (HR 686).
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