The unwillingness of the U.S. House of Representatives leadership to bring a farm bill that had been adopted by the House Ag Committee to the floor for a vote in 2012 resulted in a 9-month extension of the 2008 law during the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

The resulting bill ignored the work of both the ag committees and continued the Direct Payment Program while leaving some other programs unfunded.

In eliminating the Direct Payment Program, the Senate bill re-attached conservation compliance to the crop/revenue insurance program that was subsidized by the Federal Government.

The House bill, on the other hand, did not require conservation compliance for participation in the subsidized insurance program.

As long as the Direct Payment Program remains in effect under the extension, the 95 percent of wheat farmers, 98 percent of corn and soybean farmers, and the 99 percent of rice and cotton farmers who also participate in the insurance program are already participating in conservation compliance.

In 1985, as it became apparent that the farm program safety net encouraged farmers to drain additional wetlands and keep cropland in production that was contributing to excessive erosion, the 1985 farm bill authors required conservation compliance in exchange for participation in farm program benefits, including crop insurance.

Conservation compliance requirements were applied to two types of land: Highly Erodible Land (HEL) (104 million acres) and wetlands that were not converted to cropland prior to 1985 (28 million acres).

The original legislation provided farmers with 5 years to come into compliance with the new conservation requirements. Though no working acres were excluded from production, some farmers did put vulnerable HEL in the Conservation Reserve Program in addition to wetlands.

In his paper, “Conservation Compliance: A 25-year Legacy of Stewardship,” USDA Former Deputy Secretary Jim Moseley reports that “because conservation treatments have been applied to over 140 million acres, farmers have saved 295 million tons of soil per year — soil that has been held in place and kept from entering our rivers, lakes, and streams. Further, an estimated 1.5 million to 3.3 million acres of vulnerable wetlands have not been drained as a result of compliance.”