Sunday, December 07, 2008

Subsidies encourage sodbusting on fragile land

About 425 square miles of South Dakota grassland became farmland between 2002 and 2007, and the phenomenon is occuring in adjoining states, thanks to "federal subsidies and two years of surging commodity prices," Dan Morgan reports in The Washington Post. That has raised "concerns among cattle ranchers, hunters and environmental groups [about] whether U.S. taxpayers should be underwriting these changes has emerged as a controversial issue in farm country and in Washington."

(Post map pinpoints Hand County, S.D., from which Morgan reported)
In the South Dakota stretch of the glacier-carved Prairie Pothole reigon, where about 17 inches of rain falls in the average year, "Conservation groups say most farmers would not risk the start-up costs of plowing and preparing the ground without crop insurance, on which the federal government pays close to 60 percent of the premium," Morgan writes. The House and Senate voted to delay or deny crop insurance for land that had never been farmed, but in final negotiations on the new Farm Bill, crop-growing lobbies won out. A restriction passed for the Prairie Pothole states, but won't take effect in any state unless the governor wants it. None have, and they seem unlikely to do so.

"Farm groups argue that it would be a serious mistake to cut insurance on land conversions at a time of rising food prices and growing worldwide demand for commodities," writes Morgan, one of the best reporters on the farm-subsidy beat. (Read more)

No comments: