The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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February 9, 2014

Cross column: Win Some, Lose Some with New Farm Bill

In the game of politics, you win some, lose some.

What sportsmen and conservationists got in the new, five-year Farm Bill that President Obama signed into law on Friday possibly could have been better.

Then again, considering how business is done in Washington D.C. these days, it also could have been much, much worse.

The most important conservation provisions of the new Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2014 — commonly called the Farm Bill — include linking conservation compliance practices to obtaining crop insurance and a “Sodsaver” provision targeted for six states in the Upper Midwest.

Other provisions in the bill include $40 million to fund programs that encourage private landowners to allow public access, greater emphasis on preserving wildlife habitat through existing programs, and the consolidation of some existing federal conservation programs to make them more efficient.

Those are in the win column.

But in the lost column, funding for the Conservation Reserve Program was cut by $6 billion and maximum acreage enrollments reduced from the current 32 million acres to only 24 million acres.

The popular program which for nearly 30 years has paid landowners to take marginal acres out of production and plant them in grasses has been the foundation for wildlife habitat in farm country.

Minnesota congressman Tim Walz, a member of the House Agriculture Committee and ranking member of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, said that he was satisfied with the legislation.

“Overall, considering the atmosphere we’re in, I’m very proud of what we did,” he said.

A key conservation component of the new farm bill, he said, was linking farm insurance once again to conservation compliance.

“We’re saying that you as a landowner certainly have a right to break up your marginal land but you’re not going to get government help to do it,” he said.

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