Published Apr 10, 2012

PFI Farmers Speak Up for Conservation During D.C. Fly-In

By Tamsyn Jones

Do you value federal programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) or Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)?

Then follow the lead of three PFI farmers and make your voices heard.

“If you value conservation, beginning farmer or local foods programs, you need to tell your representatives,” says Jerry Peckumn, who runs Peckumn Farm on about 1,900 acres with his son near Jefferson, west-central Iowa. “They need to hear from people who support or have benefited from these programs, because the more people who voice support, the more likelihood they’ll get funded.”

With farm bill haggling heating up — and conservation programs caught in the crossfire (along with provisions aimed at helping beginning farmers and ranchers and increasing access to local foods) — Peckumn and two other policy-minded PFI compeers — Dan Specht and Betsy Dahl — traveled to Washington D.C. in early March to meet Iowa’s congressional leaders and urge continued support for these programs.

Specht, of Prairie Quest Farms near McGregor in northeast Iowa, says conservation programs “are one of the few ways farmers can get support for growing perennials and forages as part of a cropping system, whereas the commodity program only supports annual crops,” while Dahl — a beginning farmer who who rents 180 acres near Rolfe, in northwest Iowa — says she’d never have gotten a bank loan without the EQIP program.

“With the farm bill up for re-authorization this year, I wanted to encourage our congressmen to keep funding those portions of it,” Dahl says.

Peckumn, Specht and Dahl worked as a team during the trip and met directly with Sen. Tom Harkin and Reps. Tom Latham and Bruce Braley, as well as aides to Sen. Charles Grassley and Reps. Steve King and Leonard Boswell.

With Iowa farmers set to start planting crops sometime this month, Peckumn says the sooner lawmakers are contacted, the better, before the frenzy of the growing season gets in full swing. “Calling or emailing – or even if people just write a letter and share their story – it would be a big help.”

He and the other PFI farmers emphasize that the only way to gain politicians’ support for sustainable agriculture programs is for them to hear from enough people who care about EQIP, CSP, or beginning farmer programs.

“Personalize these programs for [lawmakers] and tell them how what they’ve been doing does make a difference,” Peckumn says. “Thank them for their past support when it has been positive, and let them know how these issues affect you.”

The PFI farmers were among more than 30 independent family farmers and ranchers from 19 states who trekked to the nation’s capitol to advocate for conservation and beginning farmer funding, and fairness in the next farm bill.

The two-day event, which took place March 6-7, was sponsored by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocate for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources and rural communities.