Students, faculty discuss conservation farming bill at forum

by Pamela Steinle

Former Minnesota Rep. David Minge and approximately 75 University faculty members, students and agricultural professionals discussed the benefits of including the Conservation Security Act in the 2002 farm bill on Wednesday at St. Paul’s Borlaug Hall.

The act would create the Conservation Security Program, which rewards farmers and ranchers who implement conservation practices.

Some attendees said this will give balance to a financial aid system that currently favors large-scale farming and ignores small family farms.

Minge, a Democrat, said people cannot expect farmers to implement conservation practices without incentives because such practices often decrease crop production.

“There is just not the income for stewardship that there ought to be in farm programs,” Minge said.

Minge said now was the ideal time to lobby for the program because Americans are willing to pay for environmental preservation.

He also said the conservation program would help urban America understand the expenses associated with farming.

“It’s hard to explain the farm program to urban America,” Minge said.

Urban residents remain skeptical of the $28 billion allotted to farm programs in 2001, Minge said.

But the former congressman said if he could show them farm programs focusing on environmental conservation, the public would be more willing to spend money.

Critics of the bill are concerned it will not produce an efficient agriculture system.

Applied economics professor Vernon Eidman said opponents of the bill worry the high loan rates associated with the program will encourage production without consideration of market needs.

Seminar attendee Lois Braun, a field agronomist employed at Agricultural Resources Consulting, said she wanted the Conservation Security Act to replace commodity payments, or yield-based subsidies.

“Commodity payments award farmers for products regardless of market demand, which distorts the market,” Braun said.

She also sees the act as a way to revitalize small family farms because conservation practices are more feasible on a small farm with small-scale equipment.

Minge served on both the Agriculture and Budget committees during his four terms as a U.S. representative from Minnesota’s 2nd District.

Since his defeat in 2000, Minge has worked as a consultant for the Minnesota Project – a nonprofit organization promoting sustainable agriculture.

The bill will be introduced on the Senate floor next week. If the legislation survives, it will be discussed in the Agriculture Committee.