A national coalition of 56 policy and advocacy organizations is urging Congress to preserve funding for essential U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs and to take additional steps to enhance soil, water quality and wildlife on agricultural land.

The coalition outlined a set of key principles that lawmakers should observe as they write the Conservation Title of the 2012 farm bill and seek ways to trim the federal deficit.

The 56 coalition members are asking Congress to:

• Put a high priority on funding critical conservation programs at the current baseline level 
of $6.5 billion a year.

• Strengthen and enforce provisions that require farmers to implement basic conservation practices in return for farm subsidies and extend them to insurance subsidies.

• Target conservation dollars where the opportunities for conservation and environmental outcomes are greatest.

• Streamline existing programs by reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and ramp up their effectiveness by linking payments to performance and focusing more on whole-farm and whole-ranch conservation systems.

• Ensure that all segments of the farming community — women, minorities and beginning farmers — have access to funding and technical assistance.

The 2011 Survey on Agriculture and Environment conducted on behalf of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, shows clearly that Americans overwhelmingly view conservation as an important priority in national farm policy and don’t want to see conservation programs cut. 

USDA’s conservation programs are the main tools for implementing best management practices that help crop and livestock producers conserve our soil resources and avoid deposition of nutrient and sediment into our rivers and lakes.

Agricultural conservation is also the primary means to protect vital habitat and endangered and threatened species on the privately held land that constitutes the majority of our nation’s land base.

Current market pressures and competition for land are exacerbating our conservation challenges and threatening to roll back the past gains of federal conservation programs. The nation will not be able to meet the natural resource and environmental challenges it faces without well-funded and effective conservation provisions in the 2012 farm bill.

Conservation leaders from across America endorsed the principles laid out in the group’s document: