A Farm Bill Will Grow Our Economy While Protecting the Environment

The White House Rural Council recently released a report on the economic importance of passing a comprehensive Food, Farm, and Jobs Bill. The report outlined the importance of the Farm Bill to our nation and the many ways that the legislation affects and benefits Americans every day.

One of those ways is by supporting the ongoing conservation of America’s natural resources.

Conservation is the foundation of a productive agriculture sector and a strong rural economy. By protecting our soil, water and wildlife habitat, farmers and ranchers are helping to ensure that our working lands are wild areas are productive for years to come. They’re also supporting outdoor recreation for millions of American sportsmen. From hunting and fishing, to camping and hiking, these outdoor activities add more than $640 billion to our economy every year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture works directly with farmers and ranchers to strengthen our nation’s soil and water resources. USDA has partnered with more than half a million farmers, ranchers and landowners on these conservation projects since 2009 – a record number.

The Farm Bill is America’s largest investment supporting the voluntary and successful conservation, restoration and management of America’s working lands. It provides a wide range of critical and successful programs to conserve our natural resources. For example, by linking crop insurance compliance to participation in conservation programs, a new Farm Bill would keep tens of millions of acres in conservation practices and expand our efforts across the nation.

Additionally, a new five-year  Farm Bill would strengthen USDA efforts to restore land, conserve water resources and create wildlife habitat – programs such as the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative that’s helping treat more than 840,000 acres of land along the Mississippi River, and the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative that has enrolled more than 275,000 acres in recent years.

In the Chesapeake Bay, a new Farm Bill would enable continued conservation and restoration efforts that, according to a new report are preventing soil erosion to the tune of 15.1 million tons annually while also reducing runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus. That’s enough to fill 150,000 cars on a train that would stretch from Washington, D.C. to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

A new Farm Bill is critical to continue the wide range of conservation efforts USDA has undertaken alongside farmers and ranchers in recent years. The benefits of conservation practices on our nation’s farms and ranches are well-documented, and with a record number of producers working to protect our environment today, it’s time to move forward.

Strong conservation provisions must be a key part of a new Farm Bill. Our nation depends on it, our lands depend on it, and our children will benefit from the expanded conservation efforts that only a comprehensive Farm Bill can provide.

Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of Agriculture. Nancy Sutley is the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality