By Steve Karnowski
MINNEAPOLIS -- Wildlife and environmental groups are claiming victory for conservation practices in the new farm bill, where two of their top priorities made it into law.
Farmers will be required to use good conservation practices on highly erodible lands and protect wetlands to qualify for crop insurance subsidies. And the law requires "sodsaver" protections to discourage farmers from plowing up native grasslands in several Plains and Midwest states.
From his vantage point on a wide expanse of South Dakota prairie, rancher Jim Faulstich hopes the legislation spurs more farmers to protect the natural resources on their land.
Faulstich and his son-in-law manage about 8,000 acres near Highmore in central South Dakota, most of it restored and native grasslands on which they graze cows. They also grow a diverse rotation of crops. That habitat has proved so attractive to pheasants, trophy bucks and other wildlife populations that they launched a side business hosting hunters from across the country.
"It's a very good investment of U.S. taxpayer dollars to encourage people to do good things on the land," Faulstich said.
Other conservationists active in the long farm bill debate agree.
"I think we're going to get quite a lot of bang for the buck on conservation compliance and sodsaver," said Bill Wenzel, agriculture program director for the Izaak Walton League of America.
It wasn't a total victory. The $57.6 billion in the farm bill for conservation programs over the next 10 years is a net reduction of $4 billion. Sodsaver will apply only to six states -- North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and Nebraska -- instead of nationwide.