Conservation will likely play key role in farm bill

Corn growers are committed to being good stewards of the land and want to see “common sense” conservation programs included in the 2002 farm policy legislation. What growers don't want to see enacted are environmental programs that put them at an economic or competitive disadvantage. That was the message National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Lee Klein, of Battle Creek, Neb., delivered to legislators during his testimony before the House Agriculture Committee April 25.

During his testimony, Klein urged the policymakers to focus their efforts on developing policies that work with growers to find conservation practices that fit in with their existing management and stewardship practices.

“We know that corn growers play an important role in maintaining a healthy environment, and our members strive to be good stewards of the land,” Klein says. “We take responsibility for our farming activities and must do so with a keen eye towards conservation, productivity and marketing.”

According to Klein, the National Corn Growers Association supports voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that past farm bills have created, as well as new programs that assist growers in initiating or maintaining conservation practices on their farms.

“We believe that flexibility in programs is essential for their widespread adoption, given local variances in conservation and water quality priorities, production practices, climate, soil type and many other factors. It is also important that these programs be implemented on ground that is in production and will not become a set-aside program,” he says.

“We closely monitor the amount and speed at which new land comes into production in South America, specifically in Argentina and Brazil. As set-aside and acreage-idling programs in the United States increase, the rate at which land in South America is cultivated increases,” Klein says. “The United States cannot maintain a competitive advantage if the U.S. regulatory activity forces up production costs, if the U.S. transportation infrastructure cannot deliver our goods to domestic and foreign markets in a cost-effective manner, and if the United States drives our customers further from the point of domestic corn production. All of these elements must be considered when analyzing the impacts of domestic environmental regulatory activity.”

Two conservation programs the National Corn Growers Association is currently backing in Congress are The Fishable Waters Act and The Conservation Security Act.

The Conservation Security Act, according to Klein, is a conservation incentive payment program which provides payments to growers that are currently utilizing conservation practices on their ground or will undertake new practices that provide conservation benefits.

“The Conservation Security Act is unique in its approach because it recognizes an important part of conservation practice adoption, which is that growers need financial and technical assistance in management of their operations based on conservation principles,” he says. “This is not always as easy or as obvious as creating and managing a filter strip along the waterway that runs through your land. Rather, it is the intensive management practices that can become as much or more important in reaching our conservation goals, and which add to the costs and risks of farming.”

The Fishable Waters Act, Klein says, broadens the national commitment to voluntary actions and improves access to water quality programs and funds for farmers. The legislation has the backing of the NCGA because the commodity group believes it will provide new opportunities for agriculture to work on watersheds with the wildlife conservation community and create new alliances between agriculture and the fishing community.

According to Klein's testimony, The National Corn Growers Association would also like to see changes made to the Conservation Reserve Program. “NCGA supports maintaining the CRP at 36.4 million acres and removing the continuous signup acreage from the acreage cap. This would allow for the full utilization of the CRP and maintain environmental benefits as the focus of the continuous signup.”

No matter what conservation measures Congress changes or adds to the 2002 farm policy legislation, Klein says, they must be based in common sense and must support the “inextricable link between profitability and environmental protection in modern agriculture.”

“Improving our nation's soil and water resources — the raw materials of agriculture — enables producers to realize short-term benefits as well as long-term sustainability of their operations,” he says.

“National Corn Growers Association members are engaged in farming as a livelihood and must maintain the ability to raise productive crops on their land and market their crops to maximize profitability.”

Klein says, “NCGA believes that USDA is the primary federal government resource to assist growers across the country in attaining these goals. Whether it is through the technical assistance provided to growers for compliance with a myriad of government programs or the technical assistance for voluntarily adopting a conservation practice, USDA has the structure with local delivery units to provide the assistance necessary for growers to continue their commitment to the land.”

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