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Published September 22, 2009, 12:00 AM

Conservation Reserve Program proposal draws criticism

One of the nation’s most important federal farm programs could be taking a major hit.

By: Jon Knutson, INFORUM

One of the nation’s most important federal farm programs could be taking a major hit.

A proposal to chop millions of acres from the Conservation Reserve Program worries a lot of area residents, at least judging by comments at a meeting Monday evening in Moorhead.

“It’s an incredible, good conservation program,” said Brian Winter, a Glyndon, Minn.-based program director for the Nature Conservancy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture held the meeting – one of nine regional meetings nationwide – to gather comments on CRP.

About 80 people from North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota attended. Most were landowners, representatives of hunting groups and officials with environmental and state wildlife management groups.

CRP pays farmers to plant grasses and trees to protect environmentally sensitive topsoil, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat.

Under the U.S. farm bill passed last year, the maximum number of CRP acres nationwide will fall from 39.2 million acres to 32 million acres in 2010.

The USDA is now considering two alternatives, according to information presented at Monday’s meeting.

One would allow CRP the maximum of 32 million acres permitted under the farm bill.

The other alternative would reduce CRP to a maximum of 24 million acres.

Most of those who spoke at Monday’s meeting criticized the 24-million-acre option.

CRP is a wonderful program that needs to be maintained, said James Dick, a retired farmer from Englevale, ND.

The 79-year-old Dick said he remembers the late 1930s, “when dust (from fields) filled the air.”

The program, established in 1985, has led to increased opportunities for hunters.

Adam Benker, who works in development for the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Waterfowl Association, said “CRP has been great for waterfowl. We’d hate to see the acres cut.”

One of the few people to speak in favor of reduced CRP acreage was Steve Strege, executive director of the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, the trade group for grain elevators.

While CRP has a useful role, devoting too many acres to it hurts rural communities and beginning farmers, he said.

About 33.6 million acres are now enrolled in the program nationwide, according to the Web site of the Farm Service Agency Web, which administers CRP.

North Dakota ranks fourth with 2.8 million acres in the program. Minnesota ranks sixth with 1.6 million acres.

Farmers nationally and regionally have taken land out of the program in recent years, largely because of strong crop prices.

Garth Kaste, president of Fertile, Minn.-based Kaste Seed, whose products include seed for CRP land, said his company has seen a drop in sales the past few years.

To learn more about the USDA proposals or to comment on them, go to http://public.geo-marine.com.

USDA expects to make a decision this winter.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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