HARRISBURG, Pa. - A version of the Farm Bill now under consideration in the U.S. Senate brings with it a loophole that could have damaging effects across the nation - but especially in agriculture-heavy states such as Pennsylvania.
The bill would replace direct cash payments from the federal government to farmers, with federally subsidized crop insurance that would guarantee farmers' income whether or not they suffer crop failure.
What the new version lacks, says Aviva Glasser, legislative representative for agriculture programs at the National Wildlife Federation, is a requirement that landowners who receive those payments farm responsibly through a practice known as "conservation compliance."
"In return for receiving taxpayer dollars, farmers should have to take basic soil and water conservation measures. They should refrain from draining wetlands, and they should use a conservation plan when they're farming highly erodable land."
Glasser says eroding soil can wash away in a hard rain and clog streams and rivers, and adds that the toll taken by farmers being allowed to drain wetlands is substantial.
"Wetlands store water naturally. The more we drain wetlands, the more there's going to be downstream flooding; that water has to go somewhere."
Glasser says a move to close the loophole and require conservation compliance is the Wetlands Conservation Amendment, sponsored by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
"The amendment would actually save money while protecting valuable natural resources - and. really, it ensures the best use of our taxpayer dollars."
Supporters say the Senate version of the bill cuts spending over the next decade by roughly $24 billion by eliminating direct payments to farmers. But Glasser counters that failing to close the loophole could result in what amounts to taxpayer-funded destruction of wetlands and massive soil erosion.
Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA