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Vilsack: Incentives, not mandates on conservation

OMAHA — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said here today that the Obama administration wants to provide incentives for farmers to follow good conservation practices, rather than tying conservation compliance to subsidized crop insurance.

The Environmental Working Group, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other environmental groups have said that if Congress ends direct payments the conservation compliance requirement attached to that program should be transferred to crop insurance.

“There is a discussion of that, but I don’t know if there is support for that,” Vilsack said. “We want an incentive-driven system.”

Vilsack made the statement at a news conference at a Cabela’s sporting goods store here, where he stressed the importance of the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to idle land to improve the environment and wildlife habitat.

Contracts on 6.5 million acres of CRP land are due to end this year. Many farmers are expected to put their land back in production, and USDA has announced a number of programs to encourage landowners to keep the most highly erodible land in the CRP and to achieve goals such as increasing pollinator habitat.