Midwest Flooding Spotlights Need for Stronger Agricultural Conservation Programs

In our changing climate, farmers are uniquely poised to provide cost-effective green infrastructure solutions, such as protecting and restoring rivers, floodplains, wetlands, and upland areas that can reduce the risk of flooding and keep people out of harm’s way. There are many crops that farmers can plant that are tolerant of flooding — and it is easier to pay farmers for lost crops than it is to rebuild communities year after year.

Funding our most effective agricultural conservation programs — such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) that offer assistance to farmers who seek to implement specific conservation projects on their land — is needed now more than ever. The Department of Agriculture and Congress have an opportunity in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill to expand agricultural conservation programs which will ensure more water is naturally stored on the land. Those same lands are also helpful in reducing pollution and providing places for hunting, fishing, and recreating.

In 2010 USDA invested $592 million through financial assistance enabling 1,414 agreements, 272,762 enrolled acres, and 129,083 restored acres. However, this investment is minimal compared to the immediate and ongoing flood damage reduction benefits and the fact that the agricultural flood damages in Wisconsin alone in 1993 totaled more than $800 million.

As we review USDA’s recently released and long-awaited 2011 Resource Conservation Act Appraisal (required under the Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act) that provides an assessment of the status of the natural resources and the effectiveness of current conservation policies and programs – the question remains, are we investing enough in agricultural conservation programs?