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Monday, January 12, 2009

Lean on Rounds to Sign Sodsaver

The Feds passed the buck on the Sodsaver program. Senator Thune had hoped Sodsaver would give nationwide protection to grasslands by prohibiting crop insurance coverage for native grasslands that farmers plow into production. Unfortunately, the farm bill conference committee limited Sodsaver only to the Prairie Pothole National Priority Area. That's us, but that also includes only 5% of the remaining native grasslands in the U.S. Congress also wimped out and left participation in the program to the discretion of the governors or the affected areas.

Now Governor Rounds and his colleagues in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana have to decide whether they should impose on their farmers a restriction that competing farmers elsewhere with craftier Senators will not face. I understand why Governor Rounds might lean against signing on to Sodsaver (especially when he's speaking to the South Dakota Corn Growers, who are urging members to send this form letter to the Governor to protect their land rights.

I would note that, flawed as it is in its limited geographical scope, Sodsaver is not taking away land rights. Sodsaver simply declines to subsidize with federal crop insurance dollars those landowners who use their rights to tear up native sod.

Perhaps Governor Rounds needs the same reminder that Dan Bohl offered Linda Hilde last week: sometimes there are better uses for land than making money. Even limited just to our Prairie Pothole region, Sodsaver will protect important habitat for ducks and songbirds, preserve environmental buffers for wetlands, and provide greater economic diversity and stability than we would get panting everything between the Missouri and the Mississippi to corn (see Ducks Unlimited for a fuller explanation).

Sodsaver isn't perfect, but it's still the right thing to do. Governor Rounds, give it your support.


  1. Farmers can now maximize returns on their land by draining those unproductive potholes and planting corn and bean where they could not before. New rock clearing techniques allow pastures to be converted to cropland.

    These improvements lead to more tax base for our cash starved schools and county governments.

    Development can bring more cash for farmers like the Stip brothers allowing them to expand their operations and take over otherwise unprofitable operations.

  2. Cory, Get ready to get shocked. I actually agree with you. I'm tired of seeing more cash for farmers. If you check out the farm subsidies web site, you will be amazed at the way some farmers have figured out this fleecing of America.

  3. Show me the money. Government should help create balance between public and private and try to take the long view. We all know the crash of '29 was followed by the dirty thirties (actual dirt storms), in part because too many acres were farmed without conservation. Lake Madison has gone dry more than once in the last 120 years. People are now ripping out established shelter belts, draining low spots, and eliminating more pasture. It's simple math if all you care about is money.

  4. "balance public and private"—that sounds so much more sensible that Anon 10:35's absolutists approach of cash über alles. Good point on where that attitude toward land got us in the 1930s.

    If Searaven and I can agree, surely Gov. Rounds can see the light and sign on to this reasonable program to protect the land. We should not subsidize the destruction of more native sod.

  5. Case in point: our family owns land in a large watershed close to Lake Madison. Nearly all the low land was farmed until the USDA explained a filter strip would be extremely helpful to improve the water quality for the lake. They (you) pay us in that effort, which to me shows two things: 1) grasslands fulfill a role in nature that can't be duplicated, 2) when public money is spent to improve a body of water, the public has a stake in it and should get free public access. jh

  6. Anon 10:35, Why have any government protection or regulation bring back DDT and Agent Orange. We could drain lake Madison and Herman and farm them. We can still tax all those expensive houses cause they are already built. Then we would have even more tax base. Then when the county seizes the state park land at Herman and Madison those could be sold for more farm land. Wow we will be rolling in the taxes.

    In all seriousness, it is really heart breaking to see farmers tearing out 70-80 year old shelter belts that were but in place for a specific reason. We are heading in a direction with our current farming techniques to repeat the Dust Bowl. Not all farmers are doing this but some of the bigger ones are doing it and soon others will probably follow.

    Those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it.

  7. jh and ec: it's people like you who can take the long view who will keep South Dakota and the U.S. in good shape.

  8. Whoops. Should have hit preview button...should have said "if the governor DOESN'T wimp out..." As in:

    May I ask a stupid question? How are the farmers in this blessed Prairie Pothole region being forced into "unfair competition" with those in other less blessed areas if the Governor DOESN'T wimp out on this deal? What are the negative consequences to "losing" this "competition", besides not being able to collect pots--shall we say potloads--of federally subsidized (which side of half of every premium dollar does the government pay?) insurance proceeds, on this converted land? Wouldn't Sodsaver help stop some of the subsidy driven land price increase by outsiders (if not locals) farming the program? That "unfair competition" phrase really seems like some rich industry lobbyist's wannabe catchy, hot button earn my money today phrase, but I could be wrong.

  9. Economically Clueless:

    We need to develop our resources for the greater good. Selling off unused government property and increasing our tax base makes sense. Getting rid of old and dying shelter belts and maximizing the land for agricultural production also makes sense. We have much better tillage practices than the 30's.


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