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Farmers need to see the value of CRP

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- About 300,000 acres of South Dakota land are set to come out of the federal Conservation Reserve Program, and while that's good news for those who plan to farm the land, the long-term effects of that shift are potentially grim.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- About 300,000 acres of South Dakota land are set to come out of the federal Conservation Reserve Program, and while that's good news for those who plan to farm the land, the long-term effects of that shift are potentially grim.

For the owners of those acres, the math is simple: There is far more money to be made planting crops.

That's because the CRP, which reimburses landowners who opt to keep their land unplanted, has not kept pace with the rising market prices for corn, soybeans and wheat.

The benefits of CRP land are wide-ranging -- erodible land comes out of production; cover for game is increased; because native grasses grow, cellulosic ethanol potential increases.

It's not entirely clear how the shift of hundreds of thousands of acres will affect the pheasant population, though it likely won't be positive.

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Waterfowl production is more clear-cut: There will be far fewer ducks in South Dakota.

Some, in weighing the program's benefits against the money to be made by planting on their land, choose the long-term good of conservation. But many, as the numbers show, have made the opposite choice. It's hard to begrudge them. To ask South Dakota farmers to leave money on the table when demand for their products is at a record high simply is too much to ask.

The Conservation Reserve Program has been good for South Dakota, economically and ecologically.

But the 2007 farm bill, as it currently is formulated, doesn't change much. Reimbursements still won't keep pace with crop prices.

The state has sought to supplement the federal CRP payments that farmers receive through the Walk-In Area Program, which pays farmers for allowing unlimited public hunting on sections of their land.

If the federal government can't or won't make the program a realistic option for farmers, the state might have to.

-- Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D.

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