WASHINGTON (Feb. 15, 2013) — Bipartisan legislation introduced this week would cut $200 million in wasteful federal subsidies that currently encourage farmers to cultivate that native sod and grassland most prone to flood and erosion, according to the R Street Institute.

Introduced by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the Protect Our Prairies Act would cap the assistance provided by federal crop insurance to farm newly converted native sod and grasslands that have never been tilled before. Newly converted grasslands have significantly less yield production than land that has been farmed for years, as this vulnerable land tends to be marginal, highly erodible and flood-prone.

Under the POP Act, crop insurance coverage would be limited to 65 percent of the applicable yield until the acreage has been farmed for at least four years. The bill also would make the acreage ineligible for yield substitution programs and it would reduce federal crop insurance premium subsidies for the acreage by 50 percentage points.

“Environmentalists and wildlife preservationists -– along with hunters and anglers -– long have been concerned about the loss of America’s native prairie habitats, but this is an issue that should concern fiscal conservatives as well,” said R Street Senior Fellow Andrew Moylan. “Farmers should be free to make their own planting decisions, but federal subsidies like crop insurance offer perverse incentives to squeeze out every marginal gain, no matter how risky and short-sighted. In the end, taxpayers are stuck with the bill.”

Noem and Walz are both members of the House Agriculture Committee, which is expected to consider the legislation within the context of the five-year Farm Bill the panel is expected to produce later this year. The POP Act, which is estimated to by the Congressional Budget Office to save $200 million over the next decade, has six other co-sponsors, including Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

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