Floods and Agricultural Conservation

Today’s Washington Post has an article on suggestions by natural resources professors that the recent flooding in Iowa have some manmade bases. Some of the human-related causes include increased wetlands development, increased use of subsurface drainage pipes, lowered crop rotation (away from crops that put down deep roots, and towards shallow-rooted crops like corn), and additional generation of sediment due to agricultural and development practices.

Many of these causes of flooding relate to agricultural practices. But whether the 2008 Farm Bill–the remainder of which was passed last night over an earlier presidential veto (complicated story)–will happen to address some of these potential problems will probably be in debate. A focus on growing corn is still likely to increase, given some of the biofuels production incentives contained in the 2008 Farm Bill.

Moreover, as environmentalists critical of the new Farm Bill have pointed out, the enrollment cap in the Conservation Reserve Program (in which farmers are given incentives to take environmentally sensitive lands out of crop production) is reduced from 39.2 million acres (in the earlier version of the bill) to 32 million acres in the current Farm Bill. And the enrollment cap for the Wetlands Reserve Program (in which farmers are given incentives to reserve wetlands) is reduced by 25%. And the 2008 Farm Bill didn’t contain the stronger of the contemplated Sodsaver provisions, which would have created disincentives for farmers to plow up native prairie grasses.

On the other hand, the Farm Bill also contains the first federal energy crop program to encourage the growth of cellulosic energy crops like switchgrass, which have deeper roots, And some of the payouts for the different voluntary conservation programs have increased, potentially increasing the incentives for farmers to enter these voluntary programs (in an attempt to address earlier criticisms that too often, farmers would find it more financially rewarding to opt out, rather than in).

Me, I’m still going through the various relevant provisions of this massive +200 page document to see what I think. But I’m interested in hearing from those of you who are more immersed in the agricultural side of things!

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