Wednesday, April 09, 2008

(Another) Conservation Program Falls to Pieces Under Market Pressure

A government program that paid farmers not to farm land is falling to pieces, reports the NY Times. Since it's inception with the 1985 Farm Bill, the conservation program preserved acreage equal to the state of New York. But just last fall, farmers gave up "as many acres as are in Rhode Island and Delaware combined."

Why would the government pay farmers not to farm? To keep food prices up, of course. Historically, we've had too much land on our hands. So by tightening the supply of land, the idea was to tighten the supply of food, and thus keep prices at a level where farmers could earn a decent living.

As a side benefit, to the delight of environmentalists and hunters (the program has boosted the nation's duck population by 2 million), pristine prairieland was preserved. In some areas, erosion was stopped dead in its tracks. The government didn't just preserve any land, it saved "the acres most at risk environmentally."

Again, acreage equal to the state of New York was saved. But now, as global food prices skyrocket, and the demand for biofuel mounts, it's suddenly more profitable to farm the land than what the government's paying ($51 per acre).

But don't curse the farmers. I'd probably do the same thing. It's not like the land is being tilled in exchange for yachts and mansions. Well, maybe not at the farm level. According to the NY Times, "a broad coalition of baking, poultry, snack food, ethanol and livestock groups" are pressuring farmers to withdraw from the conservation program.

Pound360 is simply not okay with that. Why should "snack food" interests have a say in whether or not wilderness gets wiped out?

We understand that this land belongs to farmers. We get how crazy it is to pay farmers not to farm. We realize how cold blooded it would be to simply seize the land.

But when are we going to draw the line?

Why can't we decide right now that the last acre of land we develop will not be the last acre of wilderness? Why not protect another acre of land someplace for every acre of land that farmers pull from the 1985 Farm Bill conservation program?

Quite frankly, Pound360 is bored with hearing stories about more wilderness being wiped out.

We're ready to start seeing stories about the surprising benefits of preserved land, 50 years "after we drew the line." We're ready to start reading stories about how, since we drew the line, amazing technological advancements have given us the ability to pull more from the land we've already developed. We're so ready to read stories about how, since we drew the line, incredible new conservation programs have shown we can live better on less. And we're also ready to read how one of these technological breakthroughs or programs led to a cure for the common cold, a phone that never needs to be charged or an iPod that holds a billion songs.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.