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GOP-Backed Farm Bill Would Gut Program Vital to MN Agriculture

Farmers in Minnesota count on the Conservation Stewardship Program to help them with conservation projects on almost 13 percent of the state's farmland. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture/Flickr)
Farmers in Minnesota count on the Conservation Stewardship Program to help them with conservation projects on almost 13 percent of the state's farmland. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture/Flickr)
May 15, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Some Minnesota farmers are voicing concerns that one version of the Farm Bill now in Congress would gut a program they say is vital to the state's ag industry.

The Conservation Stewardship Program, or CSP, partially offsets the costs of things like cover crops that keep soil in place and buffer strips near streams to prevent soil erosion. The program is especially important to Minnesota, where it affects almost 13 percent of the agricultural landscape or about three million acres.

Yet Tara Ritter, the senior program associate of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says CSP could have even further reach if money were available.

"It's underfunded, too - over half and sometimes up to 75 percent of all qualified applicants are turned away each year - and that's at current funding levels," she notes.

Ritter says eliminating CSP funding won't kill farmers' conservation efforts, but it may make them less popular. That's a big deal, given that some of the practices covered help make land more resilient to climate-shifting weather events.

The House Agriculture Committee is led by Republican Mike Conway of Texas, who's argued the most important parts of CSP have been rolled into other programs - but Ritter says that isn't true.

"The only part of CSP that was retained is what's called the Stewardship Contract, and those are now open to a wide range of different farmers - so for instance, factory farm animal production," she explains.

She says that means less money for small farmers who may depend on incentives to be able to undertake conservation efforts. The preliminary House version of the bill is likely to come up for a full vote within the month. The Senate version has not yet been introduced.

Elizabeth Braun, Public News Service - MN