Hugoson — Conservation is a deeply ingrained value

By Gene Hugoson

Conservation is a deeply ingrained value for many Minnesota farmers. Our state regularly is at or near the top of participation for programs like the Conservation Reserve Program.

However, I am increasingly concerned that in some corners of government, farmers’ good will is starting to be taken for granted.

With great interest and concern, I recently read about a federal court decision that apparently will further restrict managed haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands in Western states.

The court decision, based on a lawsuit filed by the National Wildlife Federation, will further restrict reasonable and managed haying and grazing of CRP lands from once every three years to once every 10 years.


This court decision adds more restrictions on landowners’ flexibility, thereby reducing the appeal of the program. What is more alarming is that these decisions seem to be drifting away from farmers and policy makers toward advocacy groups and the courts.

Fortunately, this decision doesn’t affect Minnesota — at least not yet. However, considering the expected focus on conservation policies in the upcoming farm bill debate, it is clear that agricultural interests and members of Congress must exert themselves in the decision-making process to instill reason with conservation program delivery.

The bottom line is that we must protect and enhance the ability of states to craft flexible conservation programs that make sense for local landowners — otherwise program participation may suffer.

While I certainly don’t question the right of groups to file lawsuits over the administration of government programs, I suspect these people may be inadvertently hurting the very programs they so adamantly support. Put another way, the more unreasonable restrictions and barriers we build into these programs, the more we erode landowners’ interest in enrolling in these programs.

Once that starts to happen, everyone loses — including the natural resources we’re all working to protect.

While I understand that even a program as successful and proven as CRP needs an occasional adjustment, I hope the mindset apparent in this court decision does not creep into Minnesota conservation policy.

To ensure that this doesn’t happen, I encourage landowners and agricultural policymakers to work together to make sure that our perspective is understood by other groups involved in the discussion. It’s worth pointing out that the increased demand for renewable fuels feed stocks further magnifies the importance of working together.

After all, Minnesota farmers are among our most effective and dedicated conservationists. When they talk, all of us should listen.


— Hugoson is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture

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