Sodsaver legislation would close crop insurance yield substitution loophole nationwide

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) have introduced the bipartisan American Prairie Conservation Act. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this new sodsaver legislation would save more than $50 million over ten years and disincentivize the conversion of native sod to cropland by closing a crop insurance yield substitution loophole in all 50 states. Klobuchar and Walz were joined by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Representative Kristi Noem (R-SD) in introducing the legislation. Klobuchar successfully included a sodsaver provision in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Sodsaver, which has been implemented in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, and Nebraska, is a cost-saving initiative that disincentivizes, but does not prevent, farmers from converting native sod to cropland. Farmers who choose to break up native sod and convert it to cropland face a reduction in crop insurance premium subsidy assistance and a reduction in guaranteed yields of insured crops.

“The sodsaver provision we implemented in six Midwestern states as part of the 2014 Farm Bill has successfully reduced the conversion of native sod, saved taxpayer dollars, and encouraged wildlife habitat,” said Klobuchar. “Our bipartisan legislation would extend this commonsense change to the crop insurance program and boost conservation efforts and savings nationwide.”

“I am proud to re-introduce this legislation that will 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 state’s economy.” 

Specifically, the American Prairie Conservation Act would:

  • Apply sodsaver’s prohibition to substitute crop insurance yields on native sod that is converted to cropland nationwide;
  • By requiring crop insurance premium subsidies and yield guarantees be reduced for a total of four cumulative years for any crop, close an existing loophole that allows certain noninsured crops to be planted four consecutive years with no reduction in crop insurance assistance for succeeding insured crops;
  • Make crop insurance assistance more reflective of production capabilities on all native sod that is converted to cropland nationwide;
  • Require producers who convert native sod to cropland to certify to the Farm Service Agency the number and location of acres of native sod that are converted in an existing automated crop certification system so the converted acres would be accurately tracked;
  • Apply to both crop insurance and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

A loophole in existing sodsaver statute allows producers to plant non-insurable crops on newly converted native sod for four successive years. After the four successive-year window, producers could then plant insurable crops, such as corn, wheat, and soybeans, without any reduction in crop insurance assistance. The American Prairie Conservation Act requires four cumulative years of crop insurance assistance reductions before insurable crops planted on native sod that are converted to cropland are no longer subject to sodsaver provisions.

Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) are cosponsors of the legislation.

As a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a 2014 Farm Bill Conference Committee member, Klobuchar successfully pushed for key provisions in the last Farm Bill – including measures to support rural development projects, conservation programs, agricultural research, and the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program. For years Klobuchar has led a bipartisan push for the EPA to release a stronger RFS to support American jobs and decrease dependence on foreign oil. Last November the former Administration released a stronger final rule for 2017, which will require a record amount of biofuel to be mixed into our transportation fuel supply next year. Klobuchar is also leading the bill in the Senate to remove legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba.

Earlier this year, her staff held public forums throughout the state to hear firsthand from Minnesotans about their priorities for the Farm Bill’s 2018 reauthorization. Since February, Klobuchar has held Rural Economy Tours across Minnesota, meeting with local leaders from the agriculture and business communities to discuss priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill.

While he was Ranking Member of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, Walz served on the 2014 Farm Bill Conference Committee where he fought to help secure the expansion of sodsaver protection to six states including MT, ND, SD, MN, IA and NE, among other important conservation and beginning farmer provisions. Walz has also been a strong advocate for promoting the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and held a listening session last April to discuss how to jumpstart the next generation of producers in the next Farm Bill with community members and local leaders.

Throughout his time in Congress, Walz has participated in numerous conservation potlucks to discuss coalition building and preserving our natural state treasures with Minnesota conservation enthusiasts and advocates, including most recently in August of this year. In the current Congress, Walz and his staff launched a listening tour across the First District to hear from folks directly about how to protect and enhance their southern Minnesota way of life, of which agriculture is the backbone.

This is the third time Rep. Walz has co-introduced sodsaver legislation to encourage good land stewardship practices and preserve habitats for pheasants, ducks and other wildlife on native sod and on grasslands that haven’t been farmed in the past.