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Published June 11, 2012, 10:16 AM

Promoting conservation and saving taxpayer dollars

Protect our Prairies Act will save money, preserve wildlife habitat

By: Kristi Noem, Agweek

Like many South Dakotans, one of my favorite pastimes is hunting pheasants. South Dakota has a great pheasant habitat, and it’s a rare year when hunters harvest fewer than 1 million roosters during a South Dakota season. One reason South Dakota remains a destination spot for pheasant hunting is because we know that conserving the habitat of these birds and other wildlife is imperative to helping support the state’s hunting industry, which supports around 4,500 jobs and has an overall annual economic impact of more than $300 million.

Farmers in South Dakota know how to balance agriculture production with conservation. I recently introduced a bill that will help continue that trend. The Protect our Prairies Act (H.R. 5879) is bipartisan legislation I introduced with Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., that promotes conservation of habitat that support pheasants, ducks and other game species critical to the hunting industry.

In a nutshell, the legislation would reduce crop insurance assistance for crops grown on native sod and grasslands converted to cropland for the first four years. Farmers in the state know that when land hasn’t been tilled before, it is often less productive than land that has been farmed for years. Making crop insurance assistance proportionate to the reduced production capability of this land just makes sense.

It’s important to note that this bill in no way tells our farmers what they can and can’t do with their land — it just encourages a more careful examination of the benefits of tilling uncropped land. As an added bonus, the Protect our Prairies Act would save taxpayers nearly $200 million over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. I think the Protect our Prairies Act is a common sense approach to both conservation and fiscal responsibility, and I’ll be working to get it included in the farm bill.

The Senate Agriculture Committee recently approved a farm bill and there is an expectation that it will be taken up on the Senate floor sometime in June. In the House, I’m hopeful we will move our bill out of the Agriculture Committee in June. I’m working to ensure several provisions are in the bill, including the Protect our Prairies Act and legislation I introduced to extend livestock disaster programs and a bill I introduced with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., to ensure we can better fight the pine beetle epidemic in the Black Hills.

I had the opportunity to sit down recently with many members of our agriculture community to discuss the farm bill in De Smet, Hayti, Sioux Falls and Aberdeen. I appreciate all the feedback I received and will take the voices of South Dakota’s farmers and producers into the Agriculture Committee as we hammer out the final details of the House version of the farm bill. I remain committed to getting a farm bill done this year, and am optimistic we will.

Editor’s Note: Noem represents South Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives.