Can we still lead the world in conservation?

farming freedom.inddIn an era when all of the progress made in soil and water conservation in the United States over the years is threatened by the Budgeteers, it is instructive to note out in the world beyond our shores, “conservation plus agriculture equals true food security.” That’s according to an article in the National Geographic Magazine.
While the fight to keep conservation in the latest Farm Bill continues, down in Costa Rica the Volcanica Central Talamanca Corridor is, according to the Geographic, “…one of several biological corridors in Central America created to ensure the movement of critically endangered species across the region.”
Writers Emile Frison, Cristian Samper and Ken Wilson said it was difficult to motivate local farmers, who were struggling economically, to support this effort because, they reported, it was based solely on conservation. But, lo and behold, leaders discovered that broadening the corridor effort beyond conservation, “to provide livelihood benefits and improved ecosystem services like clean water was the key to success.”
The Geographic reporters said that integrating biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration there is “providing healthier and cheaper ways to make vital crops more resilient…” They reported that momentum is building for an approach in which conservation and agriculture complement each other.
“We know from our combined experience working for many years, and in many parts of the world, that there are numerous other cases in which conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity by farmers tending fewer than two hectares of land proved successful.” In other words, you can practice conservation and make a good living at the same time.
We used to know that in this country. In the days since conservation became a centerpiece of federal agricultural policy following the catastrophe of the Dust Bowl years, our farm bills have always contained generous funding for conservation, and with that money, farmers and government partners have literally saved our land and water and made America the top agricultural producer in the world.
The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Web site, said some conservation programs were renewed through 2014 by the Agricultural Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012, so the wrangle over the farm bill will not affect Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives, Agricultural Management Assistance, and the Farmland Protection Program, but lost in the shuffle were the Grassland Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program, (CRP), one of the most known of conservation programs.
Will any or all of these programs make it through the budget grinder in the coming months in our hopelessly divided Congress, or will 80 years of tandem progress for agriculture and conservation go by the wayside? If that happens, just to save some bucks, it will be a tragedy that will be noticed — even in Costa Rica.
I’ll see ya.

An Iowa native, Peter Graham has been a rural newspaper editor for 40 years. He currently edits a twice-weekly paper in Western Iowa. You can contact him at (712) 642-2791 or [email protected]