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Kristin Weeks Duncanson, Mapleton, Minn., Published June 23 2012

Conserve water and soil

Minnesotans are proud of the “natural” wealth within our state. We have beautiful lakes and forests, and the conservation practices on our working lands contribute not just to our own agricultural productivity but the wildlife and fishing that improves the quality of life for many of us.

But pressure on land resources in Minnesota is likely to intensify. The global population is projected to increase from approximately 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050.

As Senate Agricultural Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow noted, “Farming is measured in generations. Farms are passed down from children to grandchildren. But a farm can only be successful if it has quality soil and clean water. With a growing global population, it is even more important than ever that we conserve water and conserve soil resources. Advances in technology and farm practices have helped our farmers be more productive than ever before, but no amount of technology can overcome degraded soils, poor water quality or a lack of water.”

The conservation programs in the farm bill have worked. They help farmers and other landowners improve stewardship, even as they increase productivity. But they aren’t a free ride. The programs require participants like farmers to contribute a share of the cost of implementing conservation practices on their land. So these programs help encourage additional private investments in conservation, which is particularly important in a time of limited federal, state and local funding for conservation.

Conservation programs face significant cuts as Congress works to enact a new farm bill this year. The Senate has passed its version of the 2012 farm bill. This bill would cut a total of $23 billion from farm programs over the next decade, with $6.4 billion of that coming from conservation programs.

The cuts to conservation programs are painful and will be felt on the ground, where demand from producers for conservation assistance already exceeds available funding. But leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee worked in a bipartisan way to try to minimize the impact of the cuts.

We all agree that it is important to reduce the federal budget deficit. The Senate version of the 2012 farm bill contributes significantly to deficit reduction, and conservation programs have given their fair share. It is critical, since the bill passed in the Senate, and as the House takes up its version of the legislation, that lawmakers hold the line and reject any deeper cuts to conservation programs that may be proposed along the way.

It is critical that we maintain our investment in America’s working lands as we work toward the challenge of feeding

9 billion people. Minnesotans know that this is a investment that has paid off for everyone.

Weeks Duncanson farms near Mapleton, Minn. She also owns the consulting firm Ag Issues Management.