LUCAS introduces conservation programs for next farm bill

Friday, July 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(OKLAHOMA CITY) - Rep. Frank Lucas introduced legislation Thursday that would expand agriculture conservation programs in the next farm bill.

Lucas, R-Okla., proposed allowing more land to be taken out of production and extending federal aid to large livestock operations in laying out the conservation sections of the measure, which the House is preparing to write to replace the Freedom to Farm Act.

Lucas chairs the House Agriculture Subcommittee that oversees conservation programs. He held a series of hearings earlier this year about which direction environmental policy should go.

His legislation would expand existing programs that are considered by some producers to be underfunded. Conservation efforts already projected to receive $21 billion over a 10-year period would get $16 billion more.

The conservation section will be ``the glue that will hold the farm bill together,'' Lucas said.

He said strong conservation programs could win the support of lawmakers who don't understand or care about production agriculture, but do care about the environment.

The Senate has yet to take up the emergency relief package for farmers passed by the House last month.

A proposal by Texas Rep. Larry Combest, who heads the House Agriculture Committee, would allow fixed payments with no regard for crop prices and payments aimed at hitting ``target'' prices for various commodities.

Key components of Lucas' proposal include:

_ Adding 4 million acres to the Conservation Reserve Program, increasing the maximum to 40 million acres. Under the program, farmers can enroll acreage for up to 10 years and be paid for not growing crops on it.

_ Increasing funding from $200 million a year to $1.2 billion a year for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

The program gives technical and financial assistance to producers with environmental problems on their land. It helps with such things as terraces and will pay for a farmer to grow trees. However, there has been a huge backlog of requests, and livestock producers have complained that they can't get help to meet environmental regulations.

_ Expand the wetlands reserve program and authorize 3 million acres in a grasslands reserve.

Lucas also would authorize $60 million a year for his own pet program _ rehabilitating small watershed dams that are deteriorating all over the nation, many of them on private farmland.

``There will be some people who read it and say, `That's not western Oklahoma,''' meaning that many of them have no application to his district.

But he said he must help craft a farm bill ``that's good for production agriculture for the whole country and that's politically doable.''