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Conservation group favors careful approach to bioenergy and limits on payments

Agriculture.com Staff 01/23/2007 @ 3:24pm

The Izaak Walton League of America, an 85-year-old conservation group that has been making farm policy recommendations since 1937, has weighed in on the 2007 farm bill debate.

The group's new report, "The 2007 Farm Bill: Stewardship, Prosperity and Fairness," calls for strict payment limits on commodity programs and better funding of conservation programs which already have a backlog of farmers who want to enroll.

"We're proposing nothing in the way of whole new programs and we're not proposing elimination of any programs," says Brad Redlin, one of the authors of the report. "A safety net is a good thing. Conservation programs are a good thing. But let's find the money to really fund the conservation programs."

The League has about 40,000 members, which makes it slightly larger than the membership of the National Corn Growers Association. It's also a member of a larger coalition of conservation groups, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which includes Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited. But besides supporting that group, the League has put out its own ideas, Redlin told Agriculture Online.

The top recommendations include:

  1. Close payment loopholes in commodity programs by eliminating the three-entity rule and unlimited gains from commodity loan certificates and forfeitures.
  2. Fully fund conservation programs with the savings from those tighter payment limits. The 2002 farm bill is touted for increasing conservation spending by 80%, with new programs like the conservation security program and grasslands reserve and increased spending for the environmental quality incentives program (EQIP). But most of that increase in conservation was later cut by Congress in its annual appropriations, Redlin says.
  3. Toughen up conservation compliance. The League favors adding a "Sodsaver" provision to the farm bill that would deny farm program payments when a landowner kills off native prairie to plant soybeans, for example. It also wants crop insurance benefits denied to land that is under conservation compliance penalties.
  4. Use the conservation security program to make incentive payments to landowners to raise native grass mixes for ethanol production in a way that conserves energy and provides wildlife habitat.

"It's fun to be at this new era," Redlin says. "Let's also be responsible about it."

The Izaak Walton League of America, an 85-year-old conservation group that has been making farm policy recommendations since 1937, has weighed in on the 2007 farm bill debate.

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