Ag Program Stiffs Farmers, Pays Off Environmental Activists

Published April 7, 2014

A new three-year, $35 million plan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will divert agricultural dollars away from farm production and toward environmental activist causes, USDA has announced. The aim of the program is to take rural land out of agricultural production.

In a statement released Feb. 14, USDA says, “Farmers, ranchers and conservation partners will have access to a mix of financial and technical assistance opportunities through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to restore wetlands and grasslands.”

The program targets parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana that have seasonal wetlands. Some of the wetlands are temporary, filling up and then drying out, and others are more or less permanent.

A USDA press statement claimed the land targeted for environmental conservation provides critical breeding and nesting habitat for migratory waterfowl.

Global Warming Justification
USDA also cited global warming as a justification for diverting agricultural funds to the conservation program. The seasonal wetlands “have the tremendous potential to store carbon in soils, which reduces the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one of the leading greenhouse gases contributing to climate change,” the USDA press statement asserted.

USDA has created what it calls a “carbon credit marketing system” for landowners who agree to avoid tilling grasslands. USDA began working on the credit system with officials in North Dakota in 2011 and is now expanding the program to Montana and South Dakota.

Diminished Property Values
Some of the funds will be used to purchase conservation easements that place restrictions on agricultural lands. A conservation easement, also known as a conservation servitude or conservation covenant, is a legally binding agreement between a landowner and a nonprofit organization—typically a land trust—or a government agency which restricts development on the land covered by the easement.

“Landowners in the Upper Midwest should think twice before buying into USDA’s scheme to fight climate change,” said Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. “Conservation easements come with land-use restrictions that can lower the value of their property. This land devaluation is then passed on to the landowners’ heirs.

“In the name of fighting climate change, the administration wants farmers and ranchers to sign over portions of their land to quasi-government control,” Rucker added.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.