Every five years congress debates and reauthorizes a piece of legislation known as the Farm Bill. More aptly nicknamed the Farm and Food Bill by many food activists, this legislation pays for everything from food stamps, to conservation programs, to agricultural research priorities. Originally authorized during the Dust Bowl, and pushed by Hugh Hammond Bennett– the man who started the Soil Conservation Service (known in its present form is known as the NRCS)- the Farm Bill was enacted to serve two primary purposes. First, to support farms across the country in times of economic depression, so that farmers wouldn’t starve when prices hit bottom and, secondly (and most important to our cause) to mandate that farmers who received government aid enacted simple soil conservation techniques that would prevent the likes of the dust bowl from happening again.
While we as a nation have clung mightily to the concept of supporting farmers in times of need- we have forgotten Bennett’s impetus that saving our soil should be a national priority. Congress has since unlinked the direct payment (commodity-crop subsidy) program from the necessity to conserve the soil- thereby allowing egregious soil mismanagement by farmers who are simultaneously being subsidized by tax payer dollars.
Instead of a hand in glove approach, soil conservation practices have since the mid 80’s been encouraged through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)– which pays farmers to put marginal land out of production, and gives grants to growers to plant hedgerows, wildlife corridors, and beneficiary insect habitat.
This year, everything is set to change. As congress is trying to slim down anything that could be construed as wasteful fat off of the national budget, the direct payment program is on the chopping block- backed by an odd mix of environmentalists and large corn-belt farmers. Good Food movement activists who have, for decades, tried to eliminate the subsidies to the nations largest (and primarily conventional) farms are thrilled the direct payment program looks to be going the way of the Dodo.