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Shahan: We should pay farmers to grow prairie

Shahan%3A+We+should+pay+farmers+to+grow+prairie
Courtesy of Jesse Gardner via Unsplash

One argument I have heard for why most of Iowa is corn and soybeans is that producing the fruit and vegetables to feed people requires such a small amount of land, that the rest should be for ethanol and feeding livestock. I disagree.

Wildlife has inherent value and it should be protected. Earth should not be used to solely maximize profits or extract materials. I know this is wishful thinking, so I propose we use the market to protect wildlife in Iowa.

The Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, was started in 1985 with the goal of reducing soil erosion. Now CRP is also being sold as a solution to climate change, with plants sequestering carbon. Many sources talking about CRP describe it as paying farmers to stop farming. Indeed, CRP is the practice of taking land out of agricultural production and instead planting grasses or other non-crop plants on the land. In return, the landowner gets a payment from the government. 

The contracts for CRP run for 10 to 15 years. After this period, the land may be used for growing crops again, releasing any greenhouse gasses that the grass mix stored in the soil.

In addition to the federal CRP program, there should be a federal or state program for farmers to grow and maintain native prairies. Unlike CRP, the requirements for seed mixes would be more stringent, ensuring more biodiversity and native plants. Prairies require maintenance, especially in the first three to five years. Thus, labor is needed to replace the loss of labor hours from growing crops. Land should also be sold into an eternal easement before being able to join this program. This establishes that the carbon sequestered stays in the ground and that land will always be able to be used for this program, no matter how the property changes hands. Therefore, wildlife can always call that land home.

The beauty in Iowa would come back, waters would be less polluted and soil would stay in place instead of being eroded away. The land may also be used for more than just prairie. The land could be used for rotational cattle grazing or for energy production, such as harvesting portions for biogas or placing solar panels on the land. Iowa State is starting research on how a pollinator habitat may be grown on the same land as a solar farm. With all these benefits to society and the fact that maintaining a prairie requires labor, in addition to potential dual uses for the land, I do not see it as “not farming.” Prairie farming should become a practice in Iowa. Land that does not grow grain can still be beneficial.

Where would the funds to pay farmers come from? I answer taxes. Taxes are not theft, but a redistribution of value and wealth by the government. Carbon taxes on power plants and fertilizers could raise revenue to pay prairie farmers. Prairie farmers may also find profit in rotating cattle or in energy, as described above. A carbon credit market would be another pathway to profitability.

Native grasses, flowers, bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife should be supported in Iowa. Prairie farming should be an acceptable option for landowners and those who wish to work on the land. As I have stated previously, progress will only come from policy changes and policy changes will come from changes in people’s opinions and mindsets. It is my hope that CRP and prairies are seen as productive uses of land and not simply being paid to not farm.

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    David Jackson | Nov 12, 2023 at 10:00 pm

    Have you examined the government subsidies which have perverted the agriculture market, and analyzed their effect on what crops and how farmers must grow them to remain profitable? Especially up against large factory farms?

    You do understand people cannot simply provide a good or service for the good of humanity without being profitable right? Unless someone is planning to work until the day they die, and never have children to support until they’re old enough to be self-sustaining, people need to be making more money than to just survive with a decent standard of living, they need to be making enough to provide for a family as well as save/invest for retirement. Not to mention do so with the government claiming part of each of their paychecks to put into a Social Security System which is essentially a Ponzi scheme they will never benefit from, paying down interest on the national debt they keep raising, etc.

    Taxation without representation, and a direct service to the taxpayer paid for via the taxed funds, is in fact theft.

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