A guest blog from the Mississippi River Network’s Policy Manager Claudia Emken:

The Farm Bill is now a reality! It has been a long process, filled with obstacles of all kinds, but at long last the Nation’s agriculture policy is in place for the next five years. A friend of mine frequently reminds me that “Politics is not for the short-winded.” Certainly has been the case here! Farm bills are typically set up as a five year authorization, which means this farm bill should have been the Farm Bill of 2012 rather than the 2014 Farm Bill. Several extensions were passed to keep programs running until there was an agreed-to bill.

This Farm Bill is far from perfect, but that is the case with all bills, I imagine—you can’t please everyone and for some there is as much to dislike about the Farm Bill as there is to like. But I choose to focus on the priorities set by member organizations of the Mississippi River Network, and when I look at those, I see a victory for conservation. And we need to thank our Members of Congress for delivering some love this February to our country’s farmers.

What is in the bill that is good for conservation? Linking conservation compliance to federal subsidies for crop insurance premiums was a top priority. It requires farmers to follow basic conservation practices on their land if they want to receive the subsidies. Farmers are not required to take the subsidy, but if they choose to, they need a conservation plan. According to the Izaak Walton League of America, conservation compliance has saved nearly 300 million tons of soil annually and protected millions of acres of wetlands since Congress included this requirement in the 1985 Farm Bill.

In addition to conservation compliance, Mississippi River Network members supported inclusion of regional conservation partnership programs. These programs target conservation practices in critical areas of the country to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous run-off from fields into waterways. One of the regional programs currently administered by the USDA is the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Waters Initiative, and we will work to ensure that program continues in the Mississippi River basin.

Another victory is the inclusion of the Sodsaver program in this Farm Bill. It prohibits farmers from plowing up native grasslands if they receive federal payments of any kind through farm bill programs (not just conservation programs). While it is limited to just six states, known as the Prairie Pothole Region (IA, MN, NE, MT, ND, SD), efforts were made to try to make it nationwide; we will celebrate what we got and see if that can be expanded in the future. Success breeds success, so onward!

Overall, the Farm Bill includes more than $57 billion for agriculture conservation programs and provides authorization for the programs to continue for another five years.

Click on these links see how your Representative or Senator voted on the Farm Bill. Additionally, click here to find social media links to Members of Congress, which will make it easy to send them a quick thank you for their vote in support of conservation on agriculture lands and providing resources to improve our water quality. A simple, concise “Thank you” is all that is needed; they often hear from disgruntled constituents, so show the love and say “Thank you for standing up for conservation!” (Note: Be sure to check their vote on the bill—it was not unanimous!)

To read more about what organizations in the Mississippi River Network think, check out a few of these links:

Northeast Midwest Institute:
Izaak Walton League: http://www.iwla.org/index.php?ht=display/ContentDetails/i/79483
National Wildlife Federation: http://blog.nwf.org/2014/02/victory-the-new-farm-bill-is-a-major-win-for-wildlife/