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April 26, 2006
Commissioners look to retain CRP land
AMERICAN FALLS, Idaho (STPNS) -- Commissioners look to retain CRP land
Power County Commissioners have not given up hope of retaining at least some of the nearly 36,000 acres of land to be taken off the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) next year.
With over 132,000 acres of land enrolled in CRP, Power was well over the 25 percent limit placed by the federal government on land allowable into CRP.
The 36,000 acres in question were not granted new contracts and will fall out of CRP in September, 2007.
County commissioners met with Norm Wright from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) on Monday, April 24, to discuss strategy.
The first and perhaps the most likely approach the commissioners expect to take is asking the government to accept three-year contracts with landowners to be taken off the program.
Bannock and Power counties were the only counties in Idaho to lose CRP contracts, while Oneida County kept all of its contracts, despite being over the 25 percent mark as well.
?I think with the two counties (Power and Bannock) together to help push (the proposal) along, this is a real possibility,? Wright told the commissioners during the meeting.
Another approach discussed by Wright was changing the definition of cropland in Power County.
According to Wright, Power County encompasses nearly one million acres, but less than half of that qualifies as cropland. Mid-West states, Wright said, have different guidelines in place dictating what exactly cropland is and therefore can place more of their ?cropland? into CRP.
?They (mid-West states) start out at a different starting point, ?Wright said. ?We're already behind... Why don't we get credit for the land not defined as cropland??
Wright said he plans on meeting with Power County assessor Doug Glascock in the coming weeks to discuss the matter further.
Another option the commissioners are considering is demanding that the total acres of CRP land in Power County be evaluated, rather than counting all the property placed in the local program that is actually within the boundaries of neighboring counties.
While it's common for FSA to juggle contracts in different counties, Wright said his office has a deficit of over 10,000 acres of land that are actually located in neighboring counties.
Efficiency of the local FSA office has a lot to do with that deficit, said the county commissioners, but it also has to do with proximity.
Some landowners, said the commissioners, simply place their land in the FSA office in Power County because going to that office is easier than going to another FSA office farther away.
Finally, the last option the commissioners are considering is asking that the total percentage of cropland in Idaho be the marker for the federal government's cutoff line rather than the total percentage allowable in Power County alone.
Power County Commissioner Vicki Meadows said that if the total number of Idaho's cropland were used, the entire state as a whole would be using less than 12 percent of its available cropland.
?I think that would be tough,? Wright conceded to the last option. ?We'd have to change the law.?
Either way, keeping the 36,000 acres of land in question within CRP remains an important goal for the commissioners.
?We've got a chance here,? said Power County Commissioner Ray Zimmerman, ?but it's going to take a team effort. This is going to take more than just farmers.?
County commissioners are calling upon members of the community to respond to the loss in CRP land, as this affects nearly everyone.
Besides impacting outdoor recreationers and hunters, the reduction in CRP land around the Sunbeam area could lead to flooding around Stevvins Park.
Power County Commissioner Ken Estep said if a large part of the nearly 3,500 acres of land above that area is taken off CRP, as is currently planned, then the impact to the local area during the rainy season could be devastating.
?The big thing about CRP is the seeded grass,? Wright said in agreement with Estep. ?No matter how good the farmer is, there will still be more run off (of water) on cultivated land than there would be on land with seeded grass.?
To help them in getting the word out to Idaho's top officials, Power Count Commissioners are asking that public citizens send in written comments that may be included in a dispatch being organized for Senator Larry Craig's office.
Comments may be sent to 543 Bannock Ave., American Falls, ID, 83211. The commissioners asked that the comments be sent before Friday, May 12.
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