Conservation, Compaction and Compliance: How the Farm Bill Influences Farm Management

“Musing of a Pig Farmer”
by Larry Sailer

After getting a late start planting my crops, I pushed a little too fast and planted ground that was a little too wet. I thought about tilling the ground to work in the hog manure that I applied as fertilizer and to also help dry the soil. Wet soil at planting can cause a crusted layer to form, which may delay or prevent seedling emergence. Light tillage would’ve helped the seedlings break through the soil. However, I decided to stick with no-till to fight erosion. Now it looks like my yields are going to be reduced significantly because I didn’t work the ground and create a more suitable seedbed.

The debate over whether to conserve soil and be in compliance or suffer a yield loss from compaction is taking center stage in this year’s Farm Bill debate. Politicians and activists insist on tying conservation efforts to farmer’s benefits, such as crop insurance. The government pushes us farmers to have this insurance and threaten to take it away if we fall “out of compliance.” If I would till my acres in an effort to produce more crops to feed a growing world, I would lose my crop insurance. Even though I’d be farming the most efficient, least risky way possible, tilling those acres is not allowed by the Farm Bill as it’s now written.

Farmers have been producing food to feed the world since the beginning of the human race. The agricultural revolution of the 17th-19th centuries happened naturally and mostly without government intervention. Agriculture changed the world. Advances in technology and farming methods have allowed us to increase production while decreasing labor resources needed. For the first time in history, average income finally rose above subsistence level around the end of the 18th century.

Just think what might’ve happened instead if the government had gotten involved around this time and mandated what farmers could and couldn’t do. I’m guessing we wouldn’t have the incredible quality of life that we do now. Regulations lead to less production, which leads to higher prices. So the government burden doesn’t just affect farmers. Government regulations on agriculture end up affecting consumers, local communities, and the world at large.