By MATTHEW WEAVER
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- The leader of a national environmental group says he wants to see more emphasis on conservation practices in a new Farm Bill and means-based premiums for crop insurance.
Ken Cook, president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, based in Washington, D.C., also called for more conversation between ag and environmentalists about genetically engineered crops, pesticide residues in food and water, animal welfare, farm pollution and direct payments to farmers.
Cook believes there was the possibility in the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills to use funding for direct payments to enhance conservation efforts. Farmers insist on a voluntary, incentive-based conservation approach, but there's never adequate funding for that, Cook said.
He also wants more scrutiny of funding for crop insurance, Cook said. He believes there could be a way to add a conservation component to crop insurance.
The group also thinks means-testing -- determining whether someone is eligible for government-subsidized premiums based on wealth -- and limits on premium subsidies make sense.
Cook said the public should know the beneficiaries of premium subsidies.
Cook said it appears to environmentalists that farmers embrace technology and policy, warts and all.
"It seems like you embrace them because you feel you have no choice," he said. "You have to circle the wagons or those of us who disagree with you will see any debate within agriculture as a sign of weakness."
Cook spoke during the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.