Subsidies Strike Again

  The feature article, "Prairie Conundrum" points out that the federal government’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is providing incentives for farmers to convert native prairie into crop monocultures. But the article praises another USDA/Farm Bill program — the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). According to the article, EQIP claims to "pay farmers to adopt conservation practices that improve water quality, wildlife and irrigation efficiency." In the 2002 Farm Bill, funding for EQIP shot up from $200 million to $1 billion.

However, judging from the special Klamath EQIP provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill, EQIP, like CRP before it, is a giveaway to farmers disguised as a conservation incentive.

Klamath EQIP was promoted as a means to provide more flow in streams and in the Klamath River by reducing irrigation demand via improvements in on-farm irrigation efficiency. The Natural Resource Conservation Service claims that Klamath EQIP has reduced irrigation demand in the Klamath River Basin by 63,377 acre-feet. This water is presumably now available to augment river flows.

But those in the conservation and ag community who have been working to increase stream flows during the critical late summer and fall salmon-migration season, say that EQIP has wiped out all the water savings they worked to achieve over the past 20 years.

There are lessens in the Klamath EQIP experience. One is that agricultural interests can turn almost any conservation program into a means to feather their own nest at the expense of the environment and the American taxpayer. Another lesson is that conservationists need to read the fine print in Farm Bill drafts and stop supporting incentives/subsidies that sound good but do bad.

Felice Pace
Klamath, California