DU participates in conservation conversation in Washington

Farm Foundation hosts panel on future of farm bill conservation programs
The Farm Foundation holds a monthly forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on a variety of agriculture topics. December’s forum covered “The Future of Federal Conservation Programs,” and Ducks Unlimited was on hand for the discussion.

The briefing featured conservation thought leaders, as well as landowners witnessing the impacts of farm bill conservation programs firsthand. Eric Lindstrom, Great Plains Region government affairs representative, presented on behalf of DU. 

Lindstrom told attendees the United States is losing grasslands at a rate six times faster than we’re conserving them. A South Dakota State University study found that federal crop insurance and disaster relief are creating incentives to convert grassland and counteract other national policies intended to conserve grasslands.

“I just want to be clear: Ducks Unlimited strongly supports crop insurance,” Lindstrom said. “We believe farmers need that strong safety net. What we don’t want to see is incentivizing the unintended consequences [of habitat loss] that could be caused by not having this basic link of conservation compliance to crop insurance in the farm bill.”

North Dakota farmer Don Bauman also sat on the panel. Bauman uses no-till farming practices on his land and produces winter wheat, spring wheat, durum, canola, lentils, peas and garbanzo beans. Bauman said he and his wife, Edith, strongly support re-coupling conservation compliance and crop insurance.

“Wetland drainage is not the salvation for the family farm,” Bauman said. “I feel very strongly that the main reason [farmers] want to drain these wetlands, and are encouraged to drain them, is for convenience’s sake. Technology has advanced farming to levels we couldn’t even dream about 20 years ago. My dear wife, when she’s seeding the crop, turns at the end of the field, hits a button and the tractor is guided by satellites until she gets to the other end. Now, it’s very convenient if you don’t have to touch that steering wheel. If there’s a wetland in the way, you’ve got to turn that steering wheel.”

Bauman told the audience that if conservation compliance isn’t re-linked to crop insurance in the next five-year farm bill, he expects to see rapid and dramatic wetland drainage.

“There is a thought process in the farming community that we need to get [wetlands] drained now if we’re given the chance, because maybe [the opportunity] will be taken away from us again in the future,” he said. “So there’s a very strong incentive, to the detriment of our nation, to lose these wetlands.”

Even former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (TX), the panel moderator, joined in the conversation. “Read the Time magazine last week: ducks need to be harvested,” he said. “That’s why most of us in agriculture absolutely support Ducks Unlimited and what they attempt to do to show how you can continue to have abundance of wildlife because of the benefit they make to the environment. They also provide food, but they have to be harvested. We have well-meaning people inside this Beltway who do not believe any ducks should be killed, any deer should be killed, and that’s their right. But that’s a minority view. What we have to find somehow is [how] to provide the information to [the minority] that makes them want to do what this panel has agreed should be done because it’s economically sound.”

The full panel included:
  • Bruce Knight of Strategic Conservation Solutions LLC and former chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, who provided an overview of federal conservation policies and the role of federal programs in conservation work
  • Eric Lindstrom of Ducks Unlimited, who discussed DU’s priority for the conservation programs in the farm bill
  • Don Bauman, who explained the role of conservation in his North Dakota farming operation
  • Marcus Maier of the Indian Creek Watershed Project, who discussed the role of federal programs in this farmer-led project
Listen to the full morning briefing »