Farm Bill: Senate passes good version of the Farm Bill

On June 28, 2018 the Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill. The Senate version is a good bill for wildlife as it encourages wildlife conservation on farm and ranch lands. We thank Senator Bennet for working to add incentives for beneficial grazing and grasslands management practices.

Bill Highlights:

* EQIP: The minimum percentage of funding from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) going towards wildlife conservation was doubled to 10 percent. This will mean a dramatic increase in the amount of wildlife habitat on working lands. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO)
introduced this important provision during committee markup.

* Easements: Funding for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program is significantly increased, allowing USDA to expand its work to protect grasslands, wetlands, and agricultural land through conservation easements.

* CRP: The total area eligible for the Conservation Reserve Program is increased to one million acres (to 25 million acres) and a permanent easement option is included. An amendment by Senator John Thune (R-SD) added important provisions to increase flexibility for haying and grazing while safeguarding wildlife.

* Sodsaver: The 2014 farm bill included a provision, known as Sodsaver, that reduced taxpayer-funded incentives to convert native grasslands to cropland in six states in the Prairie Pothole Region (ND, SD, IA, MN, MT, NE). Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) worked with many other Senators to close a problematic loophole in this provision and to allow governors across the country to opt in to the program. NWF would ultimately like to see Sodsaver expanded nationwide, and we were disappointed that amendments to expand Sodsaver to three
additional states were not given votes during this week’s debate.

* RCPP: The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) helps protect critical landscapes and water quality by allowing local partners to leverage Farm Bill dollars through innovative conservation projects. The Senate bill increases RCPP funding and better targets its efforts while removing administrative burdens.

* Cover Crops: The bill removes barriers to cover crops within the crop insurance program, ensuring that farmers won’t be discouraged from adopting cover crops out of fear of losing crop insurance coverage. Senator Donnelly (D-IN) worked to ensure these provisions”which will protect soil health and water quality”were added to the bill.

* Grazing incentives: Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) worked to add incentives for beneficial grazing and grassland management practices aimed at helping control invasive species, increasing native vegetation, and improving habitat for birds and other wildlife.

* Measuring Impact: Language from the Agriculture Data Act (introduced by Senators Thune and Klobuchar) to collect data on the impact of conservation practices was added to the bill.