Washington, DC – On Thursday, February 14, Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Tim Walz (D-MN), along with six additional cosponsors, introduced bipartisan legislation that would protect our nation’s remaining native prairies and prime grasslands.
The Protect Our Prairies Act creates a nationwide “Sodsaver” provision that will ensure that taxpayer dollars do not continue to subsidize the destruction of native grass and prairie lands. These lands are rapidly disappearing, leaving behind fewer ranching opportunities, weaker ecosystems, reduced hunting opportunities, greater soil erosion, and net economic losses for rural communities.
The Protect Our Prairies Act will preserve grasslands by prohibiting federal commodity payments on newly broken native sod, and by reducing federal subsidies for crop and revenue insurance by 50 percentage points on those acres.
The bill also includes two important provisions that prevent gaming of the system to increase revenue insurance coverage at the expense of taxpayers and the environment. One keeps a producer's newly broken sod isolated from other crop acres when calculating insurable yields. The other requires the operator to take a percentage of the county average yield until being able to show a multi-year yield history.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the national provision will save taxpayers nearly $200 million over the next ten years, money that will otherwise be spent, in the name of U.S. taxpayers, to destroy remaining prairies and prime grasslands.
Representatives Noem and Walz first introduced the Protect Our Prairies Act in 2012, with the aim of having the language included in the House version of the farm bill. However, last year's House Agriculture Committee-passed farm bill included a much weaker provision limited to the Prairie Pothole Region of the U.S. Such a piecemeal approach would have created major inequities between farmers and left the most critical grassland resources unprotected.
An identical provision to Protect Our Prairies, championed by Senator John Thune (R-SD), was included in the Senate-passed "Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act" last year, and is expected to remain in the Senate bill as the process begins again this year.
"We are pleased that Representatives Noem and Walz have renewed their commitment to enacting a nationwide Sodsaver provision in 2013," said Greg Fogel, NSAC Policy Associate. "We applaud all the cosponsors of the Protect Our Prairies Act for their leadership in preserving grazing land, hunting opportunities, and critical natural resources. We strongly urge the House Agriculture Committee to include this national "Sodsaver" provision in the 2013 Farm Bill.
"Coming from a state that has both a strong hunting tradition and agriculture community, this legislation helps continue the healthy balance between production and conservation," said Representative Noem. "I was proud to introduce this legislation last Congress and am optimistic that we will see the bill move forward this year. Not only will it save taxpayer money, but the Protect our Prairies Act will allow us to maintain secure habitats for wildlife in South Dakota."
“The Protect Our Prairies Act accomplishes priorities for farmers, sportsmen, and taxpayers,” said Representative Walz, the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry. “By working together and promoting common sense conservation practices we can support our farmers, protect critical wildlife habitat, and support the hunting and fishing industry that is an integral part of our state’s economy.”
Additional cosponsors of the bill include House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Rep. Bennie Thompson (R-MS), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA).
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.