NDWF Farm Bill Priorities
The Farm Bill is America’s largest investment in conservation on private and working lands and therefore the best opportunity for farmers and ranchers to better steward the resources that support our nation’s food supply, reverse natural habitat destruction, and improve resiliency. In 2021, Farm Bill-funded conservation programs touched over 45 million acres, an area that is roughly the size of North Dakota.
The Farm Bill is vitally important legislation that is uniquely structured to address the most serious threat to wildlife in North Dakota: habitat loss. Farm Bill provisions can and should work together with North Dakota’s agricultural economy to ensure a resilient landscape for wildlife, their habitat, and our local communities. The following highlights some, but not all, of our priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill:
Protect and build on conservation title funding to meet producer demand.
Farm Bill conservation programs are routinely oversubscribed. Nationwide, 1 million producers were turned away from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program from 2010 to 2020. With conservation programs being greatly oversubscribed, it is critical that the 2023 Farm Bill protect and build on the historic $20 billion funding for climate-smart agriculture and conservation. Over members support protecting this funding in the Farm Bill.
Prevent the conversion of natural habitats through a nationwide Sodsaver provision.
North American prairies and grasslands are one of the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet, disappearing at a rate faster than the Amazon rainforest, primarily due to conversion to cropland. Sodsaver saves taxpayer dollars while disincentivizing the conversion of grasslands by reducing the federal insurance premium subsidies by 50 percentage points on newly converted grasslands for four years, correctly transferring risk to producers. Recent research shows that the current, six state Sodsaver provision likely reduced conversion of over 75,000 acres of marginal agricultural lands over four years. The 2023 Farm Bill should make Sodsaver apply nationwide.
Improve the Conservation Reserve Program to better meet the needs of producers.
Congress should improve the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) by directing USDA to restore incentive payments, remove rental rate caps, and restore reasonable limits to emergency haying and grazing within the Conservation Reserve Program to allow the program to better meet the needs of producers while providing benefits to soil, water, wildlife, and climate. Additionally, the 2023 Farm Bill should increase CRP’s acreage cap, especially focusing funding and acres on marginally productive lands, as well as lands that provide high value wildlife habitat.
Better align Crop Insurance with voluntary adoption of conservation practices that reduce risk and save money.
The Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) is an irreplaceable tool for agricultural producers to manage risk against financial losses caused by market conditions and adverse growing season conditions. Congress should remove barriers to, and provide incentives for, adopting risk-reducing conservation practices within the crop insurance program to lower crop insurance costs and increase on-farm resilience. The 2023 Farm Bill should continue to ensure that the crop insurance program does not inadvertently create barriers for the adoption of conservation practices, and should enable, but not mandate, producers to adopt risk-reducing conservation practices. Congress should make the Pilot Cover Crop Program, which provides a $5/acre discount per acre utilizing cover crops a permanent part of FCIP.
Improve Wildlife Connectivity and Movement.
Utilize existing programs to provide resources and incentives to private landowners to help increase habitat connectivity and allow for wildlife movement and resilience in key migration corridors. The 2023 Farm Bill should add wildlife corridors and connectivity as a priority resource concern within the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, allow for increased payments for wildlife connectivity practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and increase research and opportunities for virtual fencing.
Increase funding for Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Incentive Program.
Increase Funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, a popular program for incentivizing wildlife habitat on private lands, VPA-HIP facilitated public access on 6.4 million acres for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation as of 2020. The program grants money to states and tribes, which in turn offer financial resources and other support to landowners who enroll in the program. VPA-HIP helps states offer lease payments, technical services for habitat enhancement, and legal protection against landowner liability, and also makes it possible for state fish and game departments to promote the location of voluntary access points to sportsmen through published and online maps.