Clements: Under the Swampbuster program, farmers must conserve wetlands or lose eligibility for farm programs or crop insurance premium discounts. The program, started in 1985, has helped farmers to better conserve and significantly lower ag losses of wetlands. However, Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, says the program needs an update.
Parrish: I think it’s been a successful program. Farmers try to avoid ineligibility for receiving farm program benefits and they don’t convert wetlands. The problem that you have though is over time, the way NRCS is administrating this program, they’ve not done everything Congress has asked them to do in terms of implementing this statute.
Clements: An important component of Swampbuster for agriculture is the prior-converted cropland designation. It exempts farmland that was converted from wetlands before the 1985 farm bill from the program. Parrish says this designation is paramount so that the daily operations of a farm or ranch business are not hindered or penalized.
Parrish: Congress provided a lot of exemptions for farmers doing things like removing a tree, or cleaning up a fencerow, or replacing a fence, or improve land they have already converted. And, unfortunately, some of those types of activities are causing farmers to lose farm program benefits, or it is costing them a lot of money to go to an appeals process that really is not easy for the farmer to navigate.
Clements: Parrish says the Swampbuster program needs to offer a more transparent and simple appeals process.
Parrish: Farmers deserve a program that works. They’re going to be out there protecting wetlands on their property. We want this program to be operated in a way where farmers can protect the land that was converted. And making sure that happens is a huge priority for Farm Bureau.
Clements: Micheal Clements, Washington.