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Group backs conservation consolidation

DANIEL LOOKER 11/04/2011 @ 2:57pm Business Editor

Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust, told reporters Friday that his group favors streamlining the conservation title of the next farm bill, reducing the alphabet soup of programs from more than 20 to five.

Speaking on a day when congressional ag committees were rumored to be on the verge of releasing a new farm bill for the deficit-trimming Super Committee, Scholl said that could not only save the federal government money but might also make the process of using conservation programs less confusing for producers.

Scholl said his group would be willing to see one of its favorite programs, an easement program that protects farms and ranches from commercial and housing development, merged into other easement programs.

The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program could be joined with the Grasslands Reserve Program, he said, because they have similar goals of keeping productive land available for agriculture.

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) has introduced his own draft of a farm bill that would also consolidate conservation programs, but AFT is hoping for more support for conservation.

"We think it probably goes a little too far in consolidating programs," Scholl said.

Lugar's bill would cut total farm bill spending by about $40 billion over ten years, much more than the $23 billion that the leaders of the ag committees are expected to propose in their farm bill. 

AFT also advocates using more federal conservation dollars with local and regional programs that would address key issues in those areas, such as drought in Oklahoma or air quality in California's central valley.

And it favors re-establishing conservation compliance for crop insurance.

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