Resolved: That the United States should substantially change its federal agricultural policy.

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Source: CongressDaily/A.M., March 2, 2001 pNA.

Title: Harkin Calls For Expanded USDA Conservation Programs.(Senate
Agriculture Committee ranking member Tom Harkin, US Dept. of
Agriculture)(Brief Article)

Full Text COPYRIGHT 2001 National Journal Group, Inc.

WASHINGTON -- Mar-2 -- (CongressDaily) The Agriculture Department's conservation programs should be expanded beyond soil conservation to include maintenance of nutrients, runoff problems, large animal confinement operations and problems caused by biotechnology, said Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said.

Noting that Iowa has the same number of hogs today it had decades ago, Harkin said during the committee's first hearing on the next farm bill Wednesday that the hogs cause more problems nowadays because they are so concentrated in a few areas.

"Most of the conservation programs in the past have been paying farmers to not produce," Harkin said--referring to the land-idling Conservation Reserve Program. Harkin pointed out that most farmers take actions that enhance the environment, "but they don't get help out of pocket."

The next generation of conservation programs should help farmers "not just cut down" on production but "enhance production," he said.

In the future, he added, conservation problems will be more complicated, because farmers will grow more complicated crops, such as nutraceuticals and corn specialized for certain purposes.

Economics Research Service economist Katherine Smith testified that the measurable benefits from soil conservation included a 40 percent reduction in soil erosion from 1982 to 1997 and the restoration of more than 11,000 acres of land to wetlands between 1982 and 1992.

In the prairie pothole region of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, the CRP has caused a 30 percent increase in the duck population between 1992 and 1997 and resulted in "$700 million per year in benefits from enhanced hunting and wildlife opportunities." But Smith added that many of the benefits of conservation are immeasurable.

Smith also said most conservation benefits "are transitory because landowners would not have the incentive" or the financial capability to undertake conservation if the government did not pay for it. "Preserving the gains means continuing some form of public assistance," Smith said. She described the Environmental Benefits Index that is used to determine which land gets assistance as an "excellent" way to target benefits because it can be changed, depending on what Congress wants to accomplish.

Under EBI, farmers get points for certain needs or goals, and the land with the most points gets into the programs. Congressional Research Service senior analyst Jeffrey A. Zinn also said that the CRP might be used for land other than cropland.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Lugar said he wants Congress to determine the environmental goals of the next farm bill and the costs and benefits to landowners and society to achieve those goals. -- Jerry Hagstrom

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