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Report: Conservation Program a Big Hit in the Midwest

April 20, 2007

A new report by a coalition of Midwest farm groups finds improvements in conservation from an incentive program for farmers. Spokesman Tim Gieseke with the Minnesota Project says it concludes the "Conservation Security Program," which offers incentives to farmers to take good care of their land, is working.

“It allows farmers to invest in conservation. Once they have a revenue stream towards natural resource protection, it adds a whole aspect to their farming operation.”

He believes it also pays dividends for the rural economy and the environment. Gieseke says the program, up for renewal in the new federal farm bill, has always been under funded, with too much red tape, and deserves better support.

Gieseke adds that over 700 Minnesota farmers have 200-thousand acres enrolled in the program, but that doesn't meet the demand.

“That is a small percentage of those that would be eligible. And, we need to allow all farmers that are interested in this program to enter the program. With 80-thousand farms in Minnesota, it's conceivable that, with a well-funded program, half or more of them would be interested in pursuing conservation in this program.”

He notes that most farmers involved in the program are adding new wildlife habitat through such things as planting native grasses, fencing off wetlands and wooded areas and reducing pesticide use.

For Gieseke, the program takes a different, and effective, approach to conservation.

“This program is unique in the fact that it pays for the 'outcomes' of the conservation practices for water quality and wildlife, instead of the traditional practice that pays for the 'fix-it' programs. This leads the farmers toward the direction of improving water quality through buffer strips and habitat. It's designed to lead the farmer, rather than to provide them money to fix individual conservation problems with their farms.”

The report is available online at www.mnproject.org. Groups involved in the study are the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, Land Stewardship Project, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Illinois Stewardship Alliance and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

Jim Wishner/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - MN