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Iowans Reap Benefits from Farm Bill Conservation Programs

Some Iowans see conservation funding in the farm bill as a driver for the state's rural economy. (pheasantsforever.org)
Some Iowans see conservation funding in the farm bill as a driver for the state's rural economy. (pheasantsforever.org)
September 24, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa conservation groups are urging Congress to maintain funding for working lands conservation programs as lawmakers negotiate the pending farm bill.

Nearly 98 percent of Iowa's 33 million acres are privately owned, meaning it's up to farmers, ranchers and other landowners to voluntarily participate in conservation programs.

Iowa farmers have received $5 billion in federal conservation funds since 1995, and Joe Wilkinson, president of the Iowa Wildlife Federation, says everyone benefits.

"You know, any incentives we can get to get landowners to put more land into wildlife habitat, into any sort of conservation programs, is important to us, because we don't have the public acres that other states do," he states.

Conservation programs promote enhanced wildlife habitat, better drinking water and increased flood control.

The farm bill proposed by the House would cut nearly $800 million over 10 years, whereas funding is consistent in the Senate bill. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.

Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy with the National Wildlife Federation, says these types of conservation programs help keep farms and ranches in private hands, while protecting natural resources for future generations.

She notes that in 2016, Iowa's $372 million share was one of the nation's largest.

"Going to help these farmers and ranchers do practices on their lands to help improve water quality, help improve wildlife habitat, build soil health," she explains.

The large cuts to conservation funding in the previous farm bill meant a reduction of easements.

Wilkinson says farmers and ranchers who focus on conservation are helping protect species like monarch butterflies and pheasants.

"It has helped our pheasant population and that is a big economic value in Iowa, because pheasant hunting, small town Iowa is a big deal in the fall,” he points out. “So, it's important, more than just the environmental/conservation side of it, too – there's a rural economic value to it."

The National Wildlife Federation also wants Congress to include a national Sodsaver provision in the farm bill to protect what's left of America's grasslands, which are down to 5 percent of their original acreage.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA