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Bush Budget Would Halt CRP Land in Favor of Corn for Ethanol

President Bush's proposed budget would put a land conservation program that protects some 35 million acres on hold in favor of boosting corn production to meet the growing demand for ethanol.

While the proposal might help lessen the country's dependence on oil, a pheasant hunting and conservation group was quick to criticize the trade-off and a state biologist said the loss of the program could put some farmers in a financial bind.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said his agency would offer no new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) enrollments in 2007 and 2008.

There's a lot of pressure to act because "the price of corn is very, very high," putting upward pressure on ethanol prices, Johanns said Monday during a news conference in Washington.

Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever, said he understands that $4-a-bushel corn is a cause for concern, but he argued that putting to use land that would otherwise be set aside for conservation is not the answer.

"Clearly, we're taking a step backward if all of the sudden we start to produce corn on very marginal acreage," Nomsen said. "Because then you are talking about increased soil erosion, increased water quality problems and diminished wildlife. There's been a balance here that I'm really concerned about right now."

Nomsen said efforts to increase ethanol production should instead focus on developing alternative crops, as well as new technologies that boost crop yields.

The USDA's 2008 fiscal year budget calls for $2 billion to be spent on the conservation program, but that money would go to existing contracts. The agency expects enrollment in the program to be about 37 million acres in 2007 and drop to about 34 million acres in 2008. About 1 million acres were added during a general signup in 2006, the agency said.

Bill Smith, a senior wildlife biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department, said the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, is important because it has helped some farmers through continuing drought conditions. He said many farmers would choose to set aside land for conservation regardless of how much money a corn crop could bring.

"One thing we know here in the state is we've got landowners that are really good land stewards out there," he said. "CRP has always been a really valuable tool for those folks."

The U.S. has 110 ethanol biorefineries that can produce 5.3 billion gallons of the corn-based fuel per year, and another 63 plants and eight expansion projects are on the drawing board, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

The ethanol boom and accompanying high corn prices have some worried that farmers with expiring contracts might leave the program and use their land for crops. CRP contracts run 10 years and 15 years, and enrolled landowners can't pull out their acres without returning the government money.

Michael Held, administrative director of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, said he's heard from an increasing number of farmers during the past six months who are considering planting on CRP land after their contracts expire. For some, the high corn price is just to tempting to resist, he said.

"There's going to be lots of producers giving some thought to whether they're going to re-enroll some of their present acres," Held said.

The farm bureau supports continuation of the CRP program for environmentally sensitive land, but does not favor extending the acreage cap, he added.

Since its creation in 1985, the voluntary CRP program has helped reduce erosion and improve air and water quality, according to USDA officials. It also has boosted the populations of ducks, ring-necked pheasants, prairie chickens, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and other wildlife.

A study conducted for the agency last year concluded that every 4 percent increase in CRP acreage leads to a 22 percent increase in pheasant populations in areas such as South Dakota, where pheasants are common.

Pheasant hunting in South Dakota is a $153 million industry, Smith said, and a lot of that is because of the CRP program.

"Prior to CRP, we harvested about half as many pheasants as we do now," Smith said.

About 700,000 of the 1.5 million acres set aside under the CRP program in South Dakota were set to expire this October, but many landowners this past winter signed contract extensions adding between 2 years and 15 years to their agreements. The state will instead lose about 278,000 acres on Oct. 1.

"So it's not as big a loss as original, but it's still going to be a pretty good hit," Smith said.
Global Warming
This whole global warming thing has gotten rediculous. And just when we were starting to get some of our woods back.
The last time I hunted Pheasant was???????? and Grouse was?????????
You obviously missed the point Stick. Without an incentive for farmers to CRP their land, many of Louisiana's woods will go back to cotton or corn. It's not neccessarily a bad thing, just sharing the news.
ya'll better care....
a lot of the ducks we get.. are born, raised and fattened on that CRP and WRP land.
Speaking of which.
You know what was weird I was watching a tv program at school and it had ducks in Montanna or somewhere still there and they were saying how the ducks didnt fly south. Do any of you guys believe that DU is holding the ducks up north?
I have just never understood a comment like the one you made

you said "do you think DU is holding the ducks up there"

DU has alot of pull but they cant make the ducks "stay" up there. Once everything freezes and there is no food they migrate south. In the last 20 years the northern states haven't experienced the deep freeze early enough to push ducks to us in ample time for us to enjoy a good season. Is the a climate shift???? Im not a metorologist but those are the facts it has to freeze early and often for us to get great duck numbers. Could be early signs of this GLOBAL warming they speak of... but in the last thirty years of my life Northern states havent seen the freezes they did when I was in my 20's and slammin truck loads of ducks in November.
DU is not stoping ducks from coming south.
Had someone bowhunting a public 5000 acre refuge where duck hunting was allowed..While there ducks were in the area by the thousands with 12 in. of snow on the ground eating corn"""The local warden est. around 500,000 ducks just in this one area--I would assume if more corn is planted we will see less ducks,,
CPR land
I wouldn't worry too much about CPR land going back into corn production. When ,Hillary,Guiliani(?),Romney,McCain,Edwards,or any other PETA-loving,gun-hater gets elected President, and teams up with Kennedy,Pelosi,Feinstein,Boxer,Schumer,and the rest of the crowd,you are probably looking at hunting's demise,anyway. Maybe the salvation will be the corn farmer's lobby to keep guns and hunting alive so they can sell the "excess" corn to deer hunters at $20/30 or so, per 50lb sack.

Duck hunting is dead down here anyway, but think of those corn fattened deer.
Right on Sledge
Sledge nailed it, theres not a presidential candidate on the 08 horizon that is supportive of gun rights or hunting. The president is only one man or woman (hilliary) but does she really count as a woman? Thats another topic for another day, but if a demonrat won and has a demonrat congress and senate, I do belive ole Sledge Boy has nailed it, the days of legal hunting would be over, and you can bet your last dollar firearms would be picked up. I do belive hunting would continue on family land and such but the vast majority of hunting as we now know it would cease to exist. So instead of getting together and fighting this, lets all keep fighting amongest ourselves here on this web site and others about, dog hunting, bow hunting vs. gun hunting, mangement vs. non mangement, etc. The antis have already won a major victory they divided the hunting community (divide and conquer), I'm not the only one who thinks this read Jim Shockeys colum in American Hunter this month, he speaks of the exact same thing I do here in this post.

Buy some land and bury some guns/ammo cause the day is a coming when our heritage and second amendament rights are going bye,bye thanks to the demonrats, teachers unions and the federal govt ran public school system, Disney/animal planet/Captian Planet/the plastic people in hollywierd, etc

Whats funny about this whole thing is that the enviro whackos wanted teh ethanol to protect the environment and its only going to harm it more that does drilling for oil, there actually going to lose more habitat/animals and cause more damge to the enviroment by doing this than by using oil, dumb, dumb, dumb, but just like demonrats/liberals everything they do is backwards