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Schafer CRP comment fuels criticism

LAS VEGAS -- Agriculture Secre-tary Ed Schafer said March 3 in Las Vegas that he wishes all 39 million acres in the land-idling Conserva-tion Reserve Program could be planted in switchgrass so the crop could be used for bioenergy produc-tion, but...

LAS VEGAS -- Agriculture Secre-tary Ed Schafer said March 3 in Las Vegas that he wishes all 39 million acres in the land-idling Conserva-tion Reserve Program could be planted in switchgrass so the crop could be used for bioenergy produc-tion, but conservation and wildlife leaders and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, quickly criticized the idea.

After Schafer spoke to the Na-tional Farmers Union, Terry Detrick of the Oklahoma Farmers Union urged him to support research on cellulose from plants grown in the Plains states, which cannot produce as much biofuel from cellulosic material as other parts of the coun-try that have forests.

"I'd like to see all the CRP acres out there growing switchgrass," replied Schafer.

Ferd Hoefner of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition responded by saying "the large multibillion-dollar public investment in soil, water and wildlife conservation through the CRP is nothing to be treated lightly."

"We should look before we leap, maintain conservation benefits and move in a measured and balanced way, being careful to promote biodi-versity instead of monoculture plan-tations in the process," he said.

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Brad Redlin of the Issak Walton League of America and the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said "the Conservation Reserve Program is not designed or imple-mented to be as an agricultural production program."

Harkin said in a news release, "Land in the CRP is producing criti-cal benefits in greater wildlife habi-tat, a cleaner environment and con-servation of our precious soil and water. CRP land is not simply idle or nonproductive. We have to keep in mind our conservation goals and our responsibility to future generations.

"There are already big challenges in CRP as contracts on millions of acres expire and landowners face decisions whether to reenroll. So we must be very careful about the con-sequences of abrupt or sweeping policy changes affecting land in CRP. I'm a big advocate of producing energy from biomass, yet I believe that with care and forethought we can have both more biofuels and more conservation."

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