Ducks Unlimited and USDA emphasize conservation needs in the farm bill

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2013- The CEO of Ducks Unlimited, Dale Hall, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pushed Congress to complete a five-year farm bill with a strong conservation title as soon as possible in a teleconference with media today.

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A conference committee is currently in negotiations over the provisions of the House- and Senate-passed farm bills with a goal for completion before the end of the year. Hall said he is concerned about the potential for another one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill. “Conservation provisions would be at extreme risk,” he said, adding that a five-year farm bill would provide certainty for landowners.

“Sixty percent of the U.S. land mass is in private lands. Most of that is in agriculture,” he said. Hall explained that farmers and ranchers serve as conservation stewards of the land and “we need a way for them to feel some certainty, to make plans and be ready for the future.”

Hall emphasized the priorities of Ducks Unlimited in a farm bill, including a Sod Saver provision that reduce the amount of crop insurance assistance provided to farmers that grow crop on native sod. He also emphasized the preference for a Senate farm bill provision linking conservation compliance to crop insurance, which Secretary Vilsack seconded.

“It's an important commitment to conservation,” Vilsack said. “When you do away with direct payments, you do away with the linkage to conservation compliance. It's important to reinstate the connection to crop insurance, which is what we had before direct payments.”

In a release issued today, USDA said it has partnered with more than 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners on conservation projects since 2009. USDA also noted that outdoor recreation adds more than $640 billion every year to our economy.

Regarding the farm bill as a whole, Vilsack said Congress “has been holding farmers, sportsman, anglers and hunters at bay for far too long.”

He noted that USDA staff is attempting to plan how it would implement the provisions of 1949 permanent law, which is enacted if neither a five-year bill nor an extension is passed. “My hope and belief is that it's not necessary,” he said. “But we will be prepared if and when Congress fails to act.”

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