150 MN Farmers & Ranchers Write in Public Letter to U.S. Rep. Peterson: ‘Protect Working Lands Conservation’

Farmers Ask Peterson to Work for Better Farm Bill in Conference Committee

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Over 150 Minnesota Farmers and Ranchers sent Minnesota U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson a public letter today asking him to defend agricultural conservation efforts during final drafting of the 2018 Farm Bill in coming weeks. The letter, which was circulated by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), will be published in 14 Minnesota newspapers across Rep. Peterson’s district over the next week. A copy of the letter is available here.

Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have passed different versions of the 2018 Farm Bill in the past three weeks. The Farm Bill, which is re-authorized approximately every five years, directs the implementation of federal farm programs throughout the U.S. A conference committee of Senators and Representatives is being creating to reconcile the two versions of the bill and develop a final piece of legislation. Rep. Peterson, as the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, is widely expected to be a part of the conference committee.

In the letter, over 150 farmers and ranchers from across the state asked that Rep. Peterson work to advocate for keeping the Conservation Stewardship Program a stand-alone Farm Bill initiative and to make it easier for farmers enrolled in the federal crop insurance program to diversify and plant cover crops. Both provisions are included in the Senate version of the bill, but are not part of the House version.

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is the largest working lands conservation program in the nation, and Minnesota farmers and ranchers are recognized as leaders both in the number of contracts held and acres enrolled in CSP. The House version of the Farm Bill eliminates the program.

"The Conservation Stewardship Program is just smart farm policy,” said Darrel Mosel, a Gaylord, Minn., farmer who has participated in CSP and who signed the letter. “Farmers can, and do, generate conservation benefits on the ground they actively farm, and these benefits go beyond their own farms to provide positive and lasting outcomes for everyone. CSP helped me to do this on my own farm. To kill this jewel of a program in the new Farm Bill makes no sense. Our lawmakers need to decide to keep CSP in, and make it even stronger."

The letter also asked Rep. Peterson to work to improve the federal crop insurance program by making it more flexible for farmers using cover crops on their farms. Farmers have encountered difficulties with the current cover crop termination guidelines that the federal crop insurance program uses. The Senate version of the Farm Bill changes these termination guidelines and adds approved conservation practices like cover crops to the Risk Management Agency’s definitions of “Good Farming Practices." Practices such as cover cropping have proven to be effective ways to develop soils that are resilient when exposed to extreme weather conditions such as drought or flooding.

The letter states that, “Strong conservation policy in the 2018 Farm Bill is critical to providing farmers and ranchers with the tools and support needed to protect the land and water necessary for their livelihoods. It is also key to a good quality of life for all Minnesotans.”

Adoption of cover cropping practices and farm diversification strategies supported by CSP also serve to improve a farmer's bottom line, said Ryan Batalden, a CSP participant who farms near Lamberton, Minn. He also signed the letter to Peterson.

"Having to rely on just a few different crops makes my farm income situation riskier,” he said. “The bulk of farm program policy as it is now — including crop insurance — discourages me from diversifying my crop rotation. Support for cover crops and a strong CSP program are key for farm diversification, which is good for our land, our water and also a farmer's bottom line. I'm signing this letter to ask Congressman Peterson to work for both of these provisions in the new Farm Bill."

The Conference committee is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Once the committee has developed a final version of the Farm Bill, it will be voted on by both the House and Senate. It must then be signed by the President to become law. The current Farm Bill expires Sept. 30, 2018.