Like many ideas in Washington D.C., what starts out as a simple, well-intended regulation often devolves into a quagmire of conflicting interpretation between federal agencies and administrations with unintended consequences that often prove costly to farmers. Case in point – the 33-year old Swampbuster conservation compliance program.
Started in 1985, Swampbuster requires farmers to conserve wetlands or risk losing eligibility for farm programs or crop insurance premium discounts.
While it has helped farmers to better conserve and significantly lower losses of wetlands to agriculture, Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the program needs an update.
“I think it’s been a successful program. Farmers try to avoid ineligibility for receiving farm program benefits and they don’t convert wetlands. The problem that you have though, is over time, the way NRCS is administrating this program, they’ve not done everything Congress has asked them to do in terms of implementing this statute.”
An important component of Swampbuster for agriculture is the prior-converted cropland designation. It exempts farmland that was converted from wetlands before the 1985 farm bill from the program.
Parrish said this designation is paramount so that the daily operations of a farm or ranch business are not hindered or penalized.
“Congress provided a lot of exemptions for farmers doing things like removing a tree or cleaning up a fencerow or replacing a fence, or improving land they have already converted,” he said. “And, unfortunately, some of those types of activities are causing farmers to lose farm program benefits, or it is costing them a lot of money to go to an appeals process that really is not easy for the farmer to navigate.”
Parrish said the Swampbuster program needs to offer a more transparent and simple appeals process.
“Farmers deserve a program that works,” he said. “They’re going to be out there protecting wetlands on their property. We want this program to be operated in a way where farmers can protect the land that was converted. And making sure that happens is a huge priority for Farm Bureau.