Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined a bipartisan group of senators led by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) today to introduce a bill that would modify crop insurance premium assistance for insured crops grown on native sod converted to cropland. The Congressional Budget Office projects that this bill could save taxpayers $200 million over 10 years, and would encourage conservation of grasslands that pheasants, ducks, and other wildlife use as a habitat.
This legislation is supported by farm and conservation groups including the National Farmers Union, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, and the National Wildlife Federation.
"Highlighting programs to conserve important wildlife habitat is key as the Senate moves to pass a five-year farm bill," Bennet said. "This bill helps ensure that federal investments in the crop insurance program are spent on the most productive farmland and don't result in the loss of habitat, while also saving taxpayers $200 million."
"Our sodsaver legislation makes common-sense changes to crop insurance saving taxpayers nearly $200 million," said Thune. "This bill in no way prohibits a producer's right to convert sod or longstanding grasslands to cropland, instead it simply prevents the less productive converted native sod from being insured the same as land that has been improved and farmed for several years. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to move this important legislation forward in the Farm Bill."
"Both hunting and agriculture are vital to Minnesota's economy," Klobuchar said. "This legislation strengthens both by making common sense changes to the crop insurance program that save taxpayers money and encourage the protection of wildlife habitat, while also protecting our farmer's freedom to use their land as they see fit."
"Colorado Wildlife Federation applauds Senator Bennet for introducing this important sodsaver legislation to help conserve important, rapidly decreasing native wildlife habitat, and benefit ranching families and communities that generate additional income from sportsmen."
-- Colorado Wildlife Federation
"We applaud Senators Thune, Bennet, Klobuchar, Brown, Harkin, and Johanns for introducing this important legislation to preserve grazing land, protect hunting opportunities, and conserve critical natural resources. A nationwide "Sodsaver" provision was included in last year's Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act, and we urge its inclusion once again as the Senate Agriculture Committee considers the farm bill in the coming weeks."
-- National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
"Not only does this bill create sound conservation policy from a wildlife, water quality and economic perspective, it comes at a critical time," reports Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever's Vice President of Government Affairs. "Our native prairies are on the verge of disappearing and this policy will serve to protect those last great places and the grassland wildlife dependent upon those acres; including ringneck pheasants, bobwhite quail and prairie chickens."
"The nation's prairies are disappearing at a rapid rate not seen since the 1930s," Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall said. "We fully support farmers and ranchers having an economic buffer from weather and other uncontrollable events, but the taxpayer should not have to subsidize the conversion of vital wildlife habitats. The Prairie Protection Act of 2013 is exactly the kind of common sense legislation we need to slow the rate of habitat loss and conserve the native prairie we have left."
Both native sod and land that a producer cannot prove has ever been tilled have reduced production potential for the first few years after being converted to cropland --especially in dry years. The Sodsaver Prairie Protection Act would cut the premium subsidy in half on this land and also reduce the maximum allowable indemnity. This bill closes a loophole that allows producers to use historical yields from other more productive land on their newly broken ground, a practice called yield substitution. Recently converted cropland is often much less productive than longstanding cropland and by prohibiting yield substitution for four years the newly broken ground is insured for more realistic yields.
The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Mike Johanns (R-NE).