Environmentalists Pan Unintended Environmental Consequences of Flawed Agricultural Laws
Two unrelated food policies—one here in the United States and one in France—are drawing fire from environmentalists and sustainability advocates, who argue the approaches they mandate waste resources and money and don’t improve environmental quality.
A Politico piece last month took aim at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a 35-year-old program the USDA explains “pays rural landowners to convert environmentally sensitive cropland to long-term grass, tree, and wetland covers.”
Under the CRP, Politico reports, “farmers agree to undertake conservation measures such as planting trees or grass that prevent soil erosion, improve water quality[,] or provide habitat for wildlife. In exchange, FSA pays farmers rent for the 10 to 15 years the land is enrolled and shares in the costs of making the conservation changes.“
The premise behind the program seems simple enough. If growing crops typically requires soil, tillage, water, fertilizer, pesticides, fuel, and other inputs—which can lead to erosion, runoff, greenhouse emissions, and other negative externalities—then taking land out of production, in favor of planting trees or native grasses, will reduce or eliminate the need for those inputs and should eliminate the negative consequences of that land being used for farming.
So why isn’t the program working? A 2017 analysis of CRP by the Environmental Working Group found that the program was “failing to provide lasting protection for environmentally sensitive land” and “wasting of billions of taxpayer dollars.”
Low enrollment is one problem—and one with no clear solution in sight. When commodity prices fall, farmers are more amenable to taking some land out of production and seeking CRP money. That way they make more money. But when commodity prices are high—as they are now—farmers put more land into production and plant more crops. That way they make more money.
There are other problems with CRP. For example, it’s been plagued with violations.
This is why, even as Politico notes the Biden administration is pu
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