News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary
Congress does not always know the wisest use of land, but they know "popular".

CRP (Conservation Reserve Enrollment Program) is a good example. It is a very popular federal program that pays owners for not farming or grazing the land.

The landowners like it. The program has received 70,000 contracts to remove about 2 million acres from production since April of 2004. More than 33 million acres are enrolled.

The federal agents must be pleased with the success of their old "soil bank" program. CRP is still found under the old sections of the 1956 Soil

Bank law, but has a new name and new emphasis on wetlands and reducing agricultural runoff.

Wildlife officials like it because CRP produces millions of harvestable pheasants and non-game birds like the "Henslow's Sparrow". That is also a plus for the landowner, who can't sell the wildlife but can sell recreational opportunity.

Scientists like CRP because they can study it for years and see if it actually does reduce the oxygen-depleted zone in the Gulf of Mexico (assuming they can factor in the effects of hurricane Katrina).

A major objection to CRP comes from people who believe the program takes opportunity away from beginning farmers.

The argument today resembles that of the soil bank era: taking farm land out of production prevents that land from being available and on the market for use by a new farmer or one that needs to expand to make his operation viable.

Those millions of acres (some owned by retired farmers or city investors) could be supporting an active farm or ranch family and their community and their schools.

I know of a similar discussion from 1957, when a farmer argued to a city businessman that he should stop buying land just to put it in soil bank. "If you are not going to use it, you have no business buying it. Let some family use it to build a life," he argued.

Some landowners have discovered it is more costly and more difficult to control noxious weeds in CRP lands. Some say they will not renew because of that.

I believe in landowner rights (including freedom to take land out of production), but the law directs my office to promote increased agricultural production. That's a dilemma.

Opinions are all over the field on this topic because our priorities differ.

Which is most important:

? good pheasant hunting.

? environmental benefits.

? a government check.

? helping a new farm or ranch family get established?

It is your land, your community and your choice. Choose wisely and our grandchildren will thank you for it.

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