We applaud congressional leaders for their recent bipartisan compromise on the 2018 Farm Bill. It is a good day in America when we see strong support across the aisle for policies and programs that take good care of farmers who are taking good care of their land.
And we welcome conservation measures in the legislation – driven by demand from farmers, interested in getting the most from their farmland – certain to result in agricultural, ecological and economic benefits.
As an environmental expert from Washington, D.C., and a family farmer in rural Iowa, we both believe that farms are the backbone of our country. Farms provide healthy, sustainable food for our families, contribute to thriving communities and support the growth of local economies. We are personally and professionally invested in the success of American farmers.
Congress has made clear it is also invested in this success, with provisions in the Farm Bill that support farmers, the communities they serve and the land on which they grow their crops.
Thanks to renewed funding in the Farm Bill, important conservation programs will protect our farmland from harmful pollutants and promote healthy soil, water and air. These programs will continue to incentivize landowners like farmers, ranchers and foresters to engage in conservation efforts that produce environmental rewards and, in turn, lead to economical ones.
For example, farmers who use sustainable agricultural practices receive payments for doing so. The higher the conservation standards that landowners meet, the higher the payment they receive.
Additionally, incentives are given to farmers who take extra steps to improve upon existing efforts, allowing them to install new equipment and adopt new practices that they otherwise could not afford.
Not only do these undertakings defend our natural resources and improve business operations, but they also begin to mitigate the effects of climate change, which has the potential to wreak havoc on farms and ranches nationwide.
After many months of debate, we are grateful that policy makers are prioritizing conservation policies and programs that encourage crop rotation, boost air quality, support the growth of specialty crops and help beginning farmers and ranchers on their journey to feed America. We look forward to working with agriculturalists and environmentalists to find more ways to incentivize these good practices.
However, with any compromise in federal legislation, there is disagreement.
And there is still room for improvement in future farm bills to make pragmatic conservation measures more accessible and affordable, in turn keeping farms thriving and delivering the benefits to farming communities and the economy.
Local farmers have seen these benefits first-hand and we know they can have a major impact on a national scale.
When farmers in Iowa use cover crops, for example, it prevents runoff that would otherwise make its way down the Mississippi River Valley and out into the Gulf of Mexico. These pollutants weaken our economy by creating “dead zones” in the Gulf that destroy fish and marine habitats, endangering the livelihoods of fishermen up and down the Gulf Coast.
In other words, America’s seafood industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of workers, also directly benefits from conservation efforts on our farmlands.
From farm to fork, Americans can be proud of a food system that provides us the freshest possible produce, grain and dairy products, while also safeguarding our environment and natural resources – from the water needed to grow crops to the soil used to cultivate farmland. Farmers understand this need for environmental stewardship better than anyone.
Farmers and conservationists also know sustainable agriculture is an ongoing challenge and opportunity. Preserving and strengthening our natural resources – while incentivizing best farming practices through a strong, conservation-minded Farm Bill – is in the best interest of farmers and conservationists alike. We hope this newly enacted law is just the beginning, supporting critical conservation programs and planting seeds for many more harvests to come.
- A version of this article was published Dec. 29, 2018 in the Des Moines Register.