Another week without a new farm bill provides another chance for the Obama administration to highlight an important aspect of the legislation. Tuesday’s focus: conservation programs and gains that will be lost without a deal by the conference committee.

With the conferees hung up on regional commodity title differences and a massive gulf between Senate and House food stamp funding numbers, the chances of a new farm before year’s end are dimming. Despite the Senate being out of session this week, the main conference players – including Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee – are meeting Wednesday to again try and iron out key differences.

During a Tuesday press conference jointly held by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited, conservation was front and center. “One of every 12 jobs is connected to agriculture and that’s why Congress must complete its work on a new (farm bill),” said Vilsack. “An important component of that is a continued commitment to conservation.

“Since 2009, we have enrolled nearly 500,000 producers across the United States now engaged 350 million acres of conservation activity. These conservation programs have helped the USDA to launch a large-scale watershed effort which has helped to make a historic investment in the Everglades and helped promote better water quality along the Upper Mississippi River Basin.”

Other highlights pointed out by the USDA:

  • More than 844,000 acres were enrolled since 2010 under the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative to help treat land along the Mississippi River.
  • More than 275,000 acres were enrolled since 2011 under the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, helping helps farmers and ranchers in the central United States conserve water.
  • More than 246,000 acres were enrolled since 2010 under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, working with producers to protect water quality and combat invasive species. America's Great Lakes hold 21 percent of the world's surface fresh water.
  • The USDA Everglades Initiative has enrolled nearly 215,000 acres since 2010, improving water quality and helping to restore fish and wildlife habitat in this unique coastal region.

Check state-by-state efforts under selected NRCS and FSA conservation programs here.

With $640 billion spent by Americans on outdoor activities annually, conservation advocates swing a big stick.

Hall said Ducks Unlimited and partners are pushing for a full five-year farm bill. “We’re a bit concerned about a kick-the-can-down-the-road one year extension (of the 2008 farm bill), which would have the conservation provisions – but at extreme risk. We’re all working together to make sure there’s a five-year bill so there’s some certainty for the landowners.”

Hall pointed out that 60 percent of all the landmass of the United States is in private hands, most in agriculture. “So, if we’re able to do anything as partners out on the ground with these wonderful conservation stewards – farmers and ranchers – we (must) have a way for them to feel some certainty and make plans to be ready for the future.”

Essential for a new farm bill, said Hall, “is recoupling the crop insurance program with conservation provisions. We strongly support having farmers and ranchers get crop subsidies and crop insurance at very reasonable rates because they’re providing real benefits back to us.” In return, DU – which also backs the Sodsaver program and a 10 percent cut to conservation funding -- wants the aforementioned coupling.