Environment Picture

Cultivating a saner federal farm policy

Sen. Stabenow, Senate Agriculture Committee will play key role in saving Michigan farmland
Farmers, livestock producers and private forest owners manage more than 30% of Michigan’s landscape. Their decisions dramatically impact water quality, the fate of rare wildlife and even the pace of sprawl.

Their ability to work their land while protecting the state’s resources could get either a boost or a kick in the backside by the federal Farm Bill, complex legislation being updated right now that dictates the nation’s farm and food policy.

Few pieces of legislation have as profound an impact on the environment. The financial incentives in the bill influence what farmers plant, how much they irrigate and to what extent they take steps to help the environment.

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow can help determine whether incentives protect or discourage conservation.

If she acts aggressively, a troubling trend may be reversed: In recent years, two out of three farmers applying for Farm Bill conservation programs have been turned away due to lack of funds. More than 700 Michigan land owners are rejected each year when they ask the federal government for help.

Meanwhile the bill has lavished huge subsidies on producers of five commodities—corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and cotton—encouraging farmers to grow crops on sensitive wetlands and grasslands and to convert rangeland and pastureland to fields of row crops that require more water and chemicals.

Michigan Environmental Council’s Washington colleagues, led by Environmental Defense, are leading a push to change all this for the better by increasing conservation programs and restructuring subsidies. There has been talk of reform in the past, but little action. This year could be different.

“Powerful forces are converging to make real change possible,” says Environmental Defense farm policy director Scott Faber, who has helped forge a left-right alliance with such unlikely partners as the Heritage Foundation and Bread for the World.
-Compiled from information from Environmental Defense
RELATED TOPICS: agriculture, food policy
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