March 2, 2012
Every five years, the United States Congress must decide the fate of the Farm Bill, a set of federal laws that govern food and agriculture programs (Johnson). The Farm Bill currently in place, which dates back to 2008, must be either renewed or extended by December of this year, so its relative benefits and detriments are high on politicians’ minds (Kuipers). Those in support of the program view the bill as an assurance that our country has consistent access to “the most abundant, safest, and most affordable food supplies in the world” (Johnson). Those who criticize the bill, on the other hand, find supporting its programs to be ineffective uses of taxpayer money. After learning more about the Farm Bill’s Conservation Reserve Program of 1985, however, critics may change their minds.
The continued existence of many species of wildlife in the U.S., especially various types of ground-nesting birds, depends on the Conservation Reserve Program. The idea behind this program is fairly simple: in order to conserve water, replenish soils, and provide open space for wildlife, the federal government agrees to pay landowners — mainly farmers — sums of money to set aside acres of their land where grasses can grow or natural habitats can be restored (Kuipers). This program has almost certainly contributed to the recent boost in the abundance of individuals in particular species. For example, from 1984 to 2000 in South Dakota, the number of pheasants increased from 3.2 million individuals to 8.3 million (Kuipers). Recently, however, the CRP has been in jeopardy of not only losing finances and support from the U.S. Congress, but farmers are also less interested in participating due to the increased value of corn and other crops (Kuipers).
Because of the swelled prices of corn, farmers are deciding against receiving a CRP check and instead choosing to convert their set aside acres to agricultural fields. In 2011, the Plains States including Colorado, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Oklahoma to name a few, removed 800,000 acres from the CRP. With this decrease in land available to wildlife, the animal populations that increased with the implementation of the CRP will not likely remain stable (Kuipers). One can only hope that the pheasants, sharptail grouses, mules, whitetail deer, and ducks can maintain resilience through the upcoming decisions regarding the Farm Bill and Conservation Reserve Program.
A great deal of the wildlife in the Great Plains will probably suffer due to the loss of CRP land. Moreover, increased prices of corn and farmers’ decisions to turn down federal funds for this conservation program have stretched to affect agriculture in California, as well. The Central Valley grows two-thirds of the world’s almonds, which are water-intensive and high-maintenance crops. Besides requiring tons of plentiful fertilizers, almonds need insect pollinators for successful fertilization (Charles). For this reason, beekeepers ship approximately 1.6 million beehives from the Midwest to the Central Valley of California each year. Bees spend several weeks enjoying the almonds’ blossoms to their own delight and the delight of California farmers. After these few short weeks, however, the bees no longer have viable food sources, and therefore, beekeeper must return them to areas in rural, northern United States where they can dine on plentiful, pesticide-free wildflowers (Charles).
These paradises of wildflowers help to sustain bee populations, and unfortunately, farmers are deciding to convert acres and acres of these natural areas, which largely exist due to federal CRP funds, into profitable croplands. To tie together the relationships discussed, the Conservation Reserve Program of the Farm Bill led to the preservation of habitats ideal for bees, and farmers of the Central Valley critically need these bees to pollinate their almond crops. However, as CRP land acreage decreases due to the current prices of corn and possible future alterations of the Farm Bill, bee populations will suffer, and therefore, almond crop abundance will also likely experience drops. The importance of a program such as the Conservation Reserve Program may not seem blatantly obvious, but it certainly has a positive impact on people all over the country.
This post was authored by Adelaide Rowe ’13 who is majoring in Environmental Studies (BS).
1. Charles, Dan. “Why California Almonds Need North Dakota Flowers (And A Few Billion Bees).” National Public Radio. 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.
2. Johnson, Renee. “What Is the “Farm Bill”?” Washington: Congressional Research Service. 3 Jan. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.
3. Kuipers, Dean. “Farm Conservation Program ‘Under the Gun.’” Los Angeles Times. 9 Jan. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.