Poisoned Pollinator provision of Farm Bill puzzling


My husband Nate and I farm on my parents’ land outside of Crothersville.

I like to think of Nightfall Farm as a part of our community and ecosystem. We have forests, plus wetlands where our family has planted more than 10,000 trees. We have pasture land, where we graze pigs, chickens, sheep, and turkeys. We sell that meat at farmer’s markets and to chefs. We grow persimmons and elderberries.

We are small and diverse on purpose. We want to farm in partnership with the land that surrounds us, and we want to feed our community. Being linked to the land and our community is fulfilling. We aren’t the only ones taking lessons from our grandparents and adapting farming to today’s world.

We’ve met farmers across the state (through the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition) and nationwide (through the National Young Farmers Coalition) who are doing far more than we are. There is a growing wave of beginning farmers who are committed to this community-based, holistic agriculture.

Like most farmers, we are eager for Congress to pass a responsible Farm Bill that addresses the needs of our food system and helps farmers prosper. Many young farmers, my husband and I included, have benefited from the outstanding conservation programs within the bill.

Farm Bill programs have helped us launch our livestock operation, restore land that shouldn’t be tilled back into wetlands, and rest annual crop fields. These are big wins for our family farm, and they help keep runoff out of our waterways and give wildlife a place to call home.

But unfortunately, the Farm Bill isn’t always written with family farms like ours in mind. It’s easy for priorities to go astray, and when that happens in Congress, special interests can try to get something for themselves. That is what has happened with the House version of the Farm Bill and its newly added “Poisoned Pollinator Provision.”

Make no mistake: this was added for the pesticide industry, not farmers.

The Poisoned Pollinator Provision (Title IX) is troubling. We know that lots of farmers will still use pesticides — but this provision weakens efforts to keep pesticides off the market that might kill endangered wildlife and destroy their habitat. This can affect pollinators (like butterflies and bees) as well as other wildlife.

Without pollinators, Jackson County melons (and the cucumbers in our garden) wouldn’t be as productive. The provision removes existing safety assessments with a weak review of pesticides after they go to market (instead of before sales are allowed).

Rather than consult with federal wildlife agencies about how pesticides might harm endangered species, this provision skips the experts altogether.

Perhaps worst of all: it makes it legal to kill or harm endangered wildlife — so long as the pesticide you poisoned them with is allowed to be used on crop fields. This just doesn’t make sense. You can’t use a medication that your doctor gave you on your dog. That medicine wasn’t designed to treat your dog. In the same way, no one should be allowed to use pesticides designed for farm fields to kill pollinators and other beneficial wildlife.

Thanks to Senator Joe Donnelly and the other members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, the Senate version of the Farm Bill doesn’t contain a Poisoned Pollinator Provision. Their version reflects what farmers like us know: we must protect our farms and the many creatures that live here from unsafe pesticide use.

Right now, the two versions of the Farm Bill are headed to final negotiations and it’s important that Hoosiers speak up against the language in the House version of the Bill.

Please join me in contacting Senator Joe Donnelly and Senator Todd Young. Encourage them to keep the Poisoned Pollinator Provisions (Section IX) out of the final Farm Bill. Request that, if they are forced to vote on a Farm Bill that includes harmful language that puts endangered wildlife at risk, they vote against it.

My husband and I, and many of our fellow members of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, know that pollinators can bring financial benefit to our farms. We create habitat for pollinators by planting wildflowers, and they pollinate our crops, eat harmful insects, and add beauty to our world. This helps nature and our bank accounts. Getting pesticides to market faster without important safeguards lines the pockets of the pesticide industry, not your community farmers.

Liz Brownlee is a local farmer and one of five founding members of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition.

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