Conservation and the New Farm Bill

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

Don't see the connection between the farm bill and bobwhite quail? Well, the farm bill shapes United States agriculture. Agriculture shapes 50 percent of the land in the nation, and bobwhite quail are among the many species of wildlife that live on agricultural landscapes. Therefore, whatever affects agriculture affects bobwhite quail.

The farm bill takes on added importance in Missouri because 65 percent of the state is in agricultural production. It's a $4.8 billion a year industry that employs many thousands of Missourians.

Missouri's streams, lakes, forests, prairies, wetlands and other natural resources also benefit the state's economy. Fish and wildlife related recreation contributes $2.1 billion a year, and tourism adds a whopping $8 billion. Many more thousands of Missourians work in these industries.

Agriculture and our natural resources are intimately intertwined. The new federal farm bill has been framed to ensure that conservation and agricultural production remain mutually beneficial.

Congress passed the first farm bill in 1933, and has typically created a new one about every five years to help agriculture adapt to societal needs, world markets, weather changes, market price fluctuations and other factors.

Conservation became a centerpiece of the farm bill in the 1985 version with the creation of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Highly Erodible Land (HEL)/Sodbuster/Swampbuster provisions. CRP provides an annual payment to landowners in return for idling environmentally sensitive cropland and establishing cover, such as grass, legumes, trees and shrubs. To date, more than $2 billion has been provided to Missouri producers to secure conservation on more than 1.7 million acres. HEL/Sodbuster/Swampbuster encourages producers to farm erodible land in ways that conserve soil and to refrain from converting wetlands to cropland. In return, taxpayers fund crop price supports, disaster assistance, and other assistance producers sometimes need to continue farming.

The 1990 Farm Bill continued the conservation programs of the 1985 Farm Bill. A new feature in the 1990 bill was the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), which provided a much-needed alternative to producers that try, often unsuccessfully, to farm flood-prone land. In return for payments that may equal the full agricultural value of the land, producers restore wetlands (with cost-share) and provide an easement on the land.

Since then, Missouri producers have received $86.8 million through the WRP to restore 708 individual wetlands totaling 99,000 acres. Many additional producers, representing thousands of acres, have requested to participate, pending funding availability.

In addition to benefiting

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