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Farm groups want DU employees out of NRCS district offices in ND

FARGO, N.D. -- The North Dakota Grain Growers Association, the North Dakota Farm Bureau and others have scheduled news conferences in Fargo on Wednesday and Bismarck on Thursday to ask that the National Resources Conservation Service remove Ducks...

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FARGO, N.D. -- The North Dakota Grain Growers Association, the North Dakota Farm Bureau and others have scheduled news conferences in Fargo on Wednesday and Bismarck on Thursday to ask that the National Resources Conservation Service remove Ducks Unlimited employees from district offices in the state, an arrangement agency officials say is longstanding and harmful to farmers.

"It should be stopped," says Dan Wogsland, executive director of the NDGGA, which represents wheat and barley producers. He called the DU presence in the district offices a "dangerous precedent that invites abuse." He declined to say all that the groups are demanding, but said a wide range of farm groups are in agreement.

Mary Podoll, state conservationist with the NRCS in Bismarck, says she thinks the farm groups are dragging the NRCS "into the mud" in an effort to discredit DU because of its support for a conservation measure on the Nov. 4 election ballot. Measure 5 is the Clean Water Wildlife and Parks constitutional measure that would set aside funding for conservation spending.

Podoll says contract employees have responsibilities limited to voluntary programs that farmers want and need -- Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, and others -- and not conservation compliance as the critical groups imply.

"I mostly see this as an effort to make Measure 5 fail, than anything else," Podoll tells Agweek. "Are these groups going to bring people to the table to help with this workload?"

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She says, 4,000 people participate in programs annually, and there are 24,000 CRP contracts that need technical assistance. She has a staff of 220 and could use 250, and there is "no way my budget will allow me to have them," she says.

Podoll says the contract agreements include oversight and allow the agency to leverage its funds to use contributing funding from other organizations that share the agency's vision for wildlife habitat. She also says she's asked the farm organizations if they'd be interested in a similar partnerships, but with no response.

Wogsland is unimpressed.

"The NRCS should employ government employees and shouldn't be hiring an organization with a direct agenda that can be contrary to those of farmers and ranchers," he says.

Caren Assman, executive director of South Dakota Wheat Inc. in Pierre, S.D., says she's heard "rumblings" about DU involvement in NRCS offices, but "nothing near the feedback" that Wogsland is getting on the topic.

She says the state has 2,000 wetland determinations backlogged and about 90 percent of those are in Brown County, where excess moisture has increased pothole sizes. North Dakota has about 800 wetland determinations backlogged that farmers have been trying to get finalized to determine whether they can install tile drain, among other things.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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