New report supports need for Sodsaver in 2007 Farm Bill
BISMARCK, ND, June 1, 2007 – A briefing from a new report the Governmental Accounting Office will release this summer says conversion of native prairie grasslands is a growing problem. Ducks Unlimited believes this report and others will help Congress focus on solutions to prairie losses as it writes the new 2007 federal farm bill.
“Ducks Unlimited is working with Congress to address grassland loss in the new farm bill legislation,” said Ducks Unlimited (DU) Executive Vice president Don Young.
“Interim Results: Impact of USDA Payments and Sodbuster on Grassland Conversions to Cropland” was prepared for two key Senate and House committees working on the new federal farm bill. The report provides compelling evidence that farm program payments contribute significantly to grassland loss in the Prairie Pothole Region. More than 70 percent of North America’s ducks are hatched in this region annually.
Young applauds the foresight of Senator Tom Harkin (IA), chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, who commissioned the GAO report and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (MN), who ordered an April Congressional Research Service report on grassland loss.
“Clearly, both chairmen know the concerns of ranchers, sportsmen and conservationists across the Northern Great Plains and took the steps necessary to understand the extent of the problem,” Young said. “This report reinforces other reports that have identified that there is a problem with grassland conversion and will help Congress craft a solution.”
DU supports the Sodsaver provision to help stop grassland losses. Sodsaver was recently included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s farm bill proposal. It would eliminate eligibility for federal payments - particularly crop insurance and disaster payments - on newly broken acres without a cropping history.
In addition to DU, many other conservation organizations support the provision. Livestock groups, such as the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, also support Sodsaver.
DU’s concern for native prairie loss across the Prairie Pothole Region is longstanding. It identified the loss of native prairie grasslands as a critical issue affecting waterfowl and other wildlife.
“This report further confirms our concern that the destruction of native prairie is increasing and it is driven primarily by federal insurance and commodity payments that encourage the break up of grasslands by reducing the landowner’s financial risk through these payments,” Young said. “In addition, the report also confirms the current Sodbuster provision does little to prevent this conversion and makes clear the need for Sodsaver to protect the remaining native prairie in the Prairie Pothole Region.”
Recently, a coalition of agricultural producer groups sent a letter opposing Sodsaver to both the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and the House Committee on Agriculture. The Northern Great Plains Working Group, a coalition of conservation interests in the Dakotas and Montana, countered with additional data refuting many of the claims made by the agricultural producers’ coalition.
“The data do exist to show that there is a problem with grassland conversion in the Northern Great Plains,” said Keith Trego, executive director of the ND Natural Resources Trust. “This GAO report will only help strengthen the data set and further highlight the problem for Congress.”
In addition to its critical importance to breeding waterfowl and other wildlife, native grasslands in the Prairie Pothole Region are the lifeblood of the ranching community.
Young says DU recognizes the important role of government support for agricultural production on high-quality cropland. But offering federal payments support to convert drought- and disaster-prone land to cropland is poor policy that costs taxpayers in both federal payments and the lost environmental benefits that grasslands provide.
With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands - nature’s most productive ecosystem - and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.