On Oct. 17, a massive dust storm hit Lubbock, TX, adding to already significant agricultural and environmental devastation across the South this year. That same day, leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees recommended cuts to the federal Farm Bill, including its conservation programs.

"While it's true we all need to do our part to help put our fiscal house in order, this storm should show why these cuts can't all come from conservation and why it's important that we keep a focus on natural resource protection on working farm and ranch land unless we want to see a new Dust Bowl," says Joe Parker, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

The Dust Bowl actually helped spur development of the first incarnations of the Farm Bill in the 1930s. In addition to funds to keep farmers afloat after their losses, the legislation also helped them avert future disaster by promoting more sustainable agricultural practices, such as maintaining patches of forests to protect soil and crops from the wind -- a strategy that offers additional benefits for wildlife and water quality.

The Farm Bill that faces renewal in 2012 is a broad piece of legislation, with programs that influence everything from the cost of corn to how easily people can access carrots and cabbage. The bill constitutes the largest source of federal investment in private lands in the U.S.

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