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Cuts to Conservation Stewardship Program funding would be damaging

BY JAMES VERNARD Published: July 11, 2012

It's white hot across the Great Plains region now, as it is in much of the rest of the country. There are drought conditions in the Midwest, where corn farmers are getting concerned about their crop. Last year drought hit Oklahoma pretty hard, threatening the water supply in my hometown of Hobart.

Despite these harsh conditions, farmers still have the responsibility to provide food for America. Farm conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) enable farmers like me to conduct conservation activities such as no-till that protect against erosion and safeguard water — both supply and quantity — keeping our farms productive year after year.

The CSP is an important buffer against the increasingly unpredictable weather and production conditions farmers are facing. Oklahoma is No. 6 in the nation for CSP enrollment, with nearly 2 million acres invested. Yet there are far more farmers who want to enroll in CSP than there is funding to support it.

In Kiowa County, I was one of the 15 farmers accepted into the program out of 60 applicants. Nationwide, only about half the farmers who enroll have been accepted into the program. The Senate version of the farm bill has already cut more than 10 percent from CSP. Unfortunately, the new draft bill released last week by the House, and drafted by U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, cuts far more: a 17 percent reduction in CSP funding and a 30 percent reduction in CSP acreage.

As a longtime farmer, I know the importance of a safety net. But gutting the CSP will make it harder for Oklahoma farmers to prevent major losses in the future. And as a sportsman, I worry about what cuts to the CSP will mean for our hunting and fishing traditions. To an outsider our prairies may look barren and desolate, but a lot of critters live there. Land enrolled in CSP provides habitat for the wildlife that preserves our outdoor lifestyle.

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