Through the Farm Bill, the U.S Department of Agriculture spends roughly $20 billion per year on payments to farmers, with about $5 billion of that delivered through the conservation title. How should Congress amend the Farm Bill so that payments have a greater ecological impact? Join the discussion on Ecosystem Commons until September 20.
19 September 2011 | The Ecosystem Commons is an online portal where members of the ecosystem services community can kick around ideas, showcase projects, and track trends.
The U.S Department of Agriculture spends roughly $20 billion per year on payments to farmers, with about $5 billion of that delivered through the conservation title. It offers the single greatest opportunity for the public to assist private landowners in providing ecosystem services, like clean water, biodiversity and climate regulation. However, the funds are not invested according to any coherent strategy and the ecological outcomes are largely unknown.
One proposal is to eliminate the subsidy for corn ethanol. Adding corn ethanol to gasoline does not contribute to a meaningful reduction to greenhouse gases, causes the price of food to increase, and encourages continued degradation of the Midwestern landscape with heavy applications of fertilizers and pesticides.
Another proposal is to restructure the payments in the conservation title to be more strategic and more focused on ecological outcomes rather than practices. The potential advantages would be to demonstrate to the public what tangible benefits are gained from the investments and possibly to simplify the delivery. Some potential unintended consequences could be a disproportionate focus on ecological outcomes that can be easily measured, like water quality improvements, and lack of attention to biodiversity and other services that are difficult to quantify. Another potential downside might be spending too much money on the perfecting of measurement tools relative to the conservation benefits.
What do you think Congress should do to improve the ecological effectiveness of the Farm Bill?
Author bio: Sara is the senior director for biodiversity partnerships for Defenders of Wildlife, and director of the Northwest office. She serves on the Oregon Sustainability Board, American Forest Foundation and Willamette Partnership Boards, and advisory committees for the Doris Duke Foundation, Oregon Institute for Natural Resources, and Oregon Solutions. She successfully promoted conservation incentives and sustainability legislation in Oregon, and bills that encourage state agencies and local governments to use markets and payments for ecosystem services. She is also involved in developing recommendations for policy changes at the federal level and is working on metrics for habitat and biodiversity.