U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and U.S. Reps. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, today introduced companion versions of the bipartisan American Prairie Conservation Act (S. 1913 and H.R. 3939). This new sodsaver legislation, which, according the Congressional Budget Office, would save more than $50 million over ten years, would disincentivize the conversion of native sod to cropland by closing a crop insurance yield substitution loophole in all 50 states. Thune first authored sodsaver initiatives in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills for nationwide implementation.
Sodsaver, which has only been implemented in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, and Nebraska, is a cost-saving initiative that disincentivizes, but does not prevent, farmers from converting native sod to cropland. Farmers who choose to break up native sod and convert it to cropland face a reduction in crop insurance premium subsidy assistance and a reduction in guaranteed yields of insured crops.
“By closing loopholes and applying these more effective sodsaver provisions nationwide, we can save taxpayers money, eliminate an unintended crop insurance incentive to break native sod, and protect America’s diminishing prairie grasslands that are so important to our grazing livestock producers,” said Thune. “Not only is this an example of a good-government solution, but the savings achieved by our bill could be used elsewhere in an already cash-strapped farm bill.”
“The sodsaver provision we implemented in six Midwestern states as part of the 2014 Farm Bill has successfully reduced the conversion of native sod, saved taxpayer dollars, and encouraged wildlife habitat,” said Klobuchar. “Our bipartisan legislation would extend this small, commonsense change to the crop insurance program and boost conservation efforts and savings nationwide.”
“As an avid hunter and a lifelong farmer, I truly appreciate that in South Dakota our hunting tradition is just as strong as our commitment to agriculture,” said Noem. “With the Protect Our Prairies language included, the 2014 Farm Bill has helped strike a healthier balance between production and conservation in the Prairie Pothole Region. With proven results and the prospect of additional savings for taxpayers, now is the time to expand the program nationwide.”
“I am proud to re-introduce this legislation that will conserve critical wildlife habitat while allowing farmers to manage their lands as they see fit,” said Walz. “By working together and promoting common sense conservation practices we can protect critical wildlife habitat, support our farmers, and support the hunting and fishing industry that is an integral part of our state’s economy.”
The American Prairie Conservation Act would:
- Apply sodsaver’s prohibition to substitute crop insurance yields on native sod that is converted to cropland nationwide;
- By requiring crop insurance premium subsidies and yield guarantees be reduced for a total of four cumulative years for any crop, close an existing loophole that allows certain noninsured crops to be planted four consecutive years with no reduction in crop insurance assistance for succeeding insured crops;
- Make crop insurance assistance more reflective of production capabilities on all native sod that is converted to cropland nationwide;
- Require producers who convert native sod to cropland to certify to the Farm Service Agency the number and location of acres of native sod that are converted in an existing automated crop certification system so the converted acres would be accurately tracked;
- Apply to both crop insurance and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.
A loophole in existing sodsaver statute allows producers to plant non-insurable crops on newly converted native sod for four successive years. After the four successive-year window, producers could then plant insurable crops, such as corn, wheat, and soybeans, without any reduction in crop insurance assistance. The American Prairie Conservation Act requires four cumulative years of crop insurance assistance reductions before insurable crops planted on native sod that are converted to cropland are no longer subject to sodsaver provisions.
U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) are cosponsors of the American Prairie Conservation Act.