Harkin: Soil-saving program safe

AUGUST 14TH, 2007 | Harkin for Senate


U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., said Monday at the Iowa State Fair that the Conservation Security Program will be part of the 2007 farm bill, “or there won’t be a bill.”

The farm bill passed last month by the House of Representatives deleted funding for the program for the first four years of the five-year law.

The program pays farmers to use conservation practices, such as installing buffer strips and practicing no-till planting, that prevent soil erosion and improve water quality and wildlife habitat. Environmentalists worry that increased corn production, fueled by ethanol production, will damage Iowa’s fertile soil.

Harkin’s efforts to restore the Conservation Security Program in the 2007 farm bill picked up support last week from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who said Friday that he wants to see an expansion of the program.

“We’ve had pretty good discussions with Senator Harkin about the Conservation Security Program, and it seems to me he’s on the right track and agrees with what farmers want,” Johanns said in an interview following the release Friday of the USDA crop production report.

Harkin is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which will begin working on the 2007 farm law next month when Congress returns from its summer break.

Harkin said he hoped to have a farm bill through the Senate Agriculture Committee by the third week of September and onto the Senate floor by the end of September.

Harkin spent his noon hour Monday cooking pork and pouring iced tea and water at the pork producers’ tent. After his stint as a “celebrity chef,” Harkin talked with a group of pork producers about international trade, the national animal identification program and the next farm bill.

In an interview after the meeting, Harkin said he didn’t understand why U.S. Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, deleted the Conservation Security Program from the House version of the farm bill until 2012.

Harkin, who headed the Senate Agriculture Committee when the 2002 farm bill was approved, is credited with being the father of the Conservation Security Program. But Harkin has blamed the U.S. Department of Agriculture for raiding funding for the program and delaying implementation with a lengthy rule-making process.

Harkin recently secured an additional $115 million that Johanns said will be used to pay for existing Conservation Security Program contracts and to sign up new participants.

Harkin was miffed that Peterson and the House committee deleted the program from the first four years of their version of the farm bill.

“I have no idea why he stiffed us,” Harkin said. “The Conservation Security Program will be in the 2007 farm bill, or there won’t be a bill.”

Harkin said he will push for a combination of the Conservation Security Program and a program that pays livestock producers to implement water pollution control measures.

The two programs will maintain separate identities and funds, Harkin said, but enrollment will be streamlined.

If the Senate farm bill contains the Conservation Security Program and the House version doesn’t, conflicting versions of the bills will be worked out in a conference committee made up of House and Senate conferees.

Harkin said the chairmanship of the farm bill conference committee rotates between the House and Senate. He will be chairman of the 2007 committee, he said, which will give him extra leverage to insert the conservation program into the final version of farm bill.

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