Announcement came last week that two House of Representative congressmen introduced legislation aimed at protecting the “nation’s remaining native prairies and prime grasslands.” The announcement was made by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The following description of the bill sponsored by Reps. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) is from the coalition’s point of view, which pushed for the bill to be introduced. 

The Protect Our Prairies Act aims to enact a nationwide “Sodsaver” provision that will tighten farm subsidy program rules to diminish the taxpayer-funded incentive to destroy critical grassland resources.

“This bill will help ensure that taxpayer dollars do not subsidize the destruction of native grass and prairie lands,” said Greg Fogel, policy associate at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “These lands are disappearing at a rapid rate, and protecting them provides ranching opportunities and economic, environmental and recreational benefits to rural communities.”

The Protect Our Prairies Act will preserve grasslands by prohibiting commodity payments on newly broken native sod, and by reducing federal subsidies for crop and revenue insurance by 50 percentage points on those acres.  

The bill also includes provisions that prevent gaming of the system to increase revenue insurance coverage at the expense of taxpayers and the environment. One keeps a producer's newly broken sod isolated from other crop acres when calculating insurable yields. The other requires the operator to take a percentage of the county average yield until being able to show a multi-year yield history.

The bill mirrors the amendment filed by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), and included in the Senate committee-passed Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that provision would save taxpayers $194 million over ten years.

“South Dakota farmers already strike a healthy balance between agriculture production and conservation, and this legislation helps them continue that trend,” said Noem. “It’s just common sense to reduce crop insurance assistance for less productive land that will save taxpayers money and help preserve critical habitat for pheasants, ducks, and other game species that help support South Dakota’s hunting industry. I look forward to working with my colleagues to include this legislation into the House version of the Farm Bill.”

“This legislation is a win-win. It will save taxpayer dollars and conserve critical wildlife habitat while allowing farmers to manage their lands as they see fit,” said Walz. “By working together and promoting common sense conservation practices we can protect critical wildlife habitat, support our farmers, and support the hunting and fishing industry that is an integral part of our nation’s economy.”