Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Peterson says he’ll push for more CRP

By Tim
Spielman
Associate Editor

Washington — A shake-up in the U.S. Congress could mean new
direction in government policy next year – from national defense to
conservation. Following last week’s mid-term election, the
Democrats in 2007 look forward to controlling both the U.S. House
and Senate.

A key player in conservation policy is expected to be a
Minnesotan – Collin Peterson, the 9th-term Democrat from the
state’s 7th District who likely will chair the House Agriculture
Committee. That committee will play a significant role in
determining the composition of the new farm bill, to be set in
motion next year. Ron Kind, a Democrat from Wisconsin, has
expressed interest in serving on the ag committee.

Peterson is expected to be a staunch supporter of the
Conservation Reserve Program, a component of the farm bill’s
conservation title.

Peterson, reached by phone by Outdoor News on Monday, said he’s
already meeting with key people as he anticipates chairmanship of
the ag committee.

Available baseline funding – made known in March of next year –
will be the first step in determining funding levels for all
programs, Peterson said.

However, it’s possible more funding might be available for
conservation spending, based on other factors, he said. Because
corn and wheat prices are up, federal subsidies for those two
commodities might be less costly.

“I hope that gives us the money to do the kinds of things we
need to do in the conservation area,” he said.

But, Peterson said, there will be a “competing interest” in the
2007 farm bill that wasn’t there in 2002 – energy policy. Peterson
doesn’t see benefit in removing farmland from the CRP program and
returning it to corn production.

“It’s safe to say CRP will continue,” he said. “I’d like to see
5 million acres added to CRP.”

Currently, about 36 million acres are enrolled nationwide. And
conservation groups fear that increasing ethanol production from
corn could draw land from the program as contracts expire. Ducks
Unlimited has listed maintaining CRP acreage as one of its highest
priorities.

Rather than pulling land from the program to place back into
corn and soybean production, Peterson said he’d prefer to examine
the potential of products like switchgrass, bluestem, and sorghum
that could be converted to cellulosic ethanol. Besides being an
energy source, these crops could serve other purposes – erosion
control and wildlife habitat – Peterson said.

Conservation groups have their own ideas about how the changes
in the Congress could affect the national conservation scene.

Terry Riley, vice president of policy for the Theodore Roosevelt
Conservation Partnership, said Peterson has been supportive of some
conservation measures, including CRP, but has opposed things such
as the Open Fields Initiative sponsored by Sen. Kent Conrad,
D-North Dakota.

Riley said the Conservation Security Program – which rewards
landowners for in-progress conservation practices on their land,
with rewards based on a tier system – could see more support, and
funding. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin is in line to be the Senate Ag
Committee chair, and, according to Riley, the CSP program is “his
baby.”

“We’re supportive (of CSP) if it has wildlife benefits,” Riley
said.

CSP, since its rollout, has been severely short-changed,
according to its supporters. Meant to be a continuous
enrollment-type program, CSP’s been limited to the point to which
enrollment has occurred on a watershed-by-watershed basis.

Riley said he hopes the new members of key committees don’t
“lean too environmentally.” For example, he said it’s important
that set-aside ag programs don’t just consist of buffers.

“Those of us (wildlife biologists) know about the importance of
whole-field enrollment,” he said. “(Relying on buffers) is a
problem. There are too many benefits to whole-field
enrollment.”

Another key figure in the upcoming Congressional session could
be Minnesota’s Jim Oberstar, who last week was elected to his 17th
term (the longest-serving representative), could head up the House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The most recent major
transportation bill included several conservation provisions.

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