Crop insurance-conservation compliance deal could boost renewable energy

Author: Mike Williams | Posted: 5/10/2013
Renewable energy advocates say that an agreement announced earlier this week between agriculture, environmental and conservation groups to tie crop insurance eligibility with compliance with conservation provisions could help the development of sustainable energy production.
The agreement comes a week prior to a scheduled mark-up of farm legislation Tuesday by the Senate Agriculture Committee.
The agreement was reached after several major farm organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, dropped opposition to tying crop insurance to conservation compliance in exchange for the coalition's opposition to "means testing" or income limits on those who received subsidized premiums for crop insurance.
Renewable energy advocates say that while conservation programs are likely better known for their demonstrated ability to protect and restore natural habitat on millions of acres, and reduce soil erosion and other impacts of farming, all while increasing agricultural productivity, they also serve a critical role in the development of sustainable biomass such as energy crops and methane digesters.
Introducing energy crops offers producers a means to help restore soil quality to vulnerable lands, renewable energy advocates say. They also note that land management practices such as no-till and low-till offer restorative services while leaving residue that can be used as feedstock for advanced biofuel production. Encouraging conservation compliance helps broaden the sustainability of domestic energy production, the advocates say.
"The [agreement] is a good compromise position supporting linking conservation compliance with crop insurance premium assistance and opposing means testing, payment limitations or premium subsidy reductions for the crop insurance program," the farm and environmental groups said in a letter to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS).
"In the spirit of compromise and in the interest of completing a 2013 Farm Bill this year, each of the groups has committed to not support amendments beyond this compromise that might weaken the crop insurance program or amendments that might not link conservation compliance with crop insurance premium assistance," the groups stated.
National Association of Conservation Districts President Earl Garber said the agreement was a "common-sense, non-partisan [compromise] to ensure the equitable implementation of conservation compliance tied to crop insurance."
And while the agreement brought together groups as diverse, and often opposed in policy orientation, as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Farm Bureau and the American Farmland Trust, there was opposition in some circles.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) said the agreement did not go far enough, arguing that "conservation accountability should apply to the entire farm safety net."
"We may not even support the conservation portion of the deal which appears to include major loopholes, though we will need to see actual legislative language before making a definitive judgment on that score," NSAC said in a statement.