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House Ag committee considers simplifying conservation programs

The House Agriculture Committee voted Wednesday to give farmers more credit for using multiple conservation practices when they sign up for the working lands program, the Conservation Security Program.

And, they approved allowing farmers who are certified as organic to have their practices approved for the CSP signup process at the same time.

Neither change adds money to the program, which under the latest House proposal wouldn't be enrolling new applicants until 2009. But the sponsor of the amendment to the House farm bill, Representative Tim Waltz (D-MN) said it would treat more fairly farmers who practices controlled grazing, for example, as well as organic farmers.

Waltz said the CSP is popular in his state.

"That program has been a huge success," he said. The main complaints about it, he said, were that the signup process is cumbersome and that farmers don’t have many chances to sign up. So far, the USDA has limited signup to certain watersheds after Congress stripped funds from the CSP to pay for other programs, including an earlier disaster aid package.

The committee delayed a proposal from Republican members to streamline several conservation programs and simplify the signup process, although chairman Collin Peterson said he was willing to work with the minority party to make some changes.

Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, the ranking Republican, said he has talked to farmers who are frustrated by the complexity of conservation programs. The USDA uses for different definitions of easements for different programs, for example, he said.

"I know of other farmers in my district who have chosen not to participate in these programs because they've been warned off by other farmers..." about the red tape, Goodlatte said.

Among the changes Goodlatte and other Republicans advocated would be consolidating the EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) with WHIP (Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program).

Goodlatte said that a high percentage of participants in WHIP are not active farmers. He said that non-farm groups that support programs like WHIP would benefit from making such programs easier for farmers to use.

The House Agriculture Committee voted Wednesday to give farmers more credit for using multiple conservation practices when they sign up for the working lands program, the Conservation Security Program.

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