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The Farm Bill Loophole Puts Chesapeake Bay Water and Wildlife at Risk
FILE/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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THE DEBATE in Washington on legislation known as "the farm bill" will affect not only agriculture across Virginia, but also the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the fish and wildlife habitat important to all of us who hunt, fish, or enjoy the outdoors. And decisions about farm policy also affect us as taxpayers.
One of the issues that is most important in this debate is re-establishing the connection between subsidies for crop insurance premiums and conservation compliance. As a leader of the Izaak Walton League, which has more than 8,000 members in Virginia, I find that addressing this issue
It's also makes sense for taxpayers--who heavily subsidize crop insurance premiums--to expect some basic conservation benefits in return for their generous support. These benefits include reduction in soil erosion, conservation of wetlands, and protection of water quality.
Most of us probably don't hear all that much about crop insurance. However, federal crop insurance is extremely popular--more than 260 million acres are covered by the program, a participation rate of more than 80 percent for the major crops. Moreover, it has become the most expensive farm subsidy over the past several years. In 2011, taxpayers spent about $7.4 billion to underwrite crop insurance premiums. On average, taxpayers pay 62 percent of the premium for each insurance policy, and,
Congress is debating a new farm bill and is widely expected to eliminate some subsidies. In fact, the farm bill approved by a Senate Committee in late April eliminates several, including one program that costs taxpayers about $5 billion annually. While replacing direct cash subsidies is good policy in many ways, such a move creates a problem in that, unlike other farm payments, subsidies for crop insurance do not carry commonsense conservation standards.