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Conservation Growing Roots in New Farm Bill

March 21, 2008

Canton/Minneapolis, MN - Congressional negotiators are close to an agreement on spending levels for a new farm bill, and conservationists say they're pleased about a tentative deal to increase funding for a program that encourages farmers to protect the soil and water. Loni Kemp with the Minnesota Project says it's popular and it works.

"To date, 16 million acres have been enrolled. These are farm acres that are under production and yet, they have also achieved the highest standards in conservation performance. These acres are able to withstand ups and downs in the weather and they provide the clean water and habitat that all Americans need."

Kemp notes a new sign-up period for the "Conservation Security Program" begins April 18th. Currently, land in one watershed per state is eligible. In Minnesota, that's the northwestern Thief watershed. She hopes better funding in the new farm bill will allow the addition of more watersheds.

Kemp says the program is like a safety net because it provides working farmers an expected income and gives them flexibility in practicing conservation.

"Some farmers are reducing the amount of tillage they do, which stops soil erosion. Others are planting grassy buffers, so the water is filtered before it enters a creek. And other farmers are taking a little corner of their farm and restoring habitat that might be beneficial for pheasants, deer or whatever wildlife they'd like to encourage."

Kemp says 20,000 farmers nationally are involved in the program, 700 in Minnesota.

Adam Warthesen with the Land Stewardship Project says conservation programs protect the environment and help the farm economy.

"We're looking at long-term viability and the continued production of food on our landscape. And these measures allow us to do that. It also means that we can increase the public benefits that come as a result of protecting our soil and water. We'll have a greater wildlife habitat, cleaner streams and less dredging on the Mississippi if we can keep that soil up on the hills."

More information is available on line at www.nrcs.usda.gov.

Jim Wishner/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - MN