Ducks Unlimited staffers joined farmers on Capitol Hill last week in an attempt to build on the relationship between agricultural producers and wetlands conservation. There, Becky Humphries, director of DU's Great Lakes/Atlantic Region, and Low Point, Ill., farmers Dave and Pat Jenkins partnered to share the message that conservationists and farmers are often one and the same.
The Jenkinses are third-generation farmers who grow corn, soybeans, livestock, fruits and vegetables as part of their 800-acre farming operation along the Illinois River near Peoria. The Jenkins are also active conservationists who lead by example through their commitment to protecting soil, improving water quality and restoring wildlife habitat on their farm.
The couple traveled to Washington, D.C., last week as part of a DU farmer fly-in to share their conservation story with members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Among other topics, the Jenkinses described how they became one of the first farm families in Woodford County to enroll their frequently flooded cropland in the Illinois River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and how, with DU's help, they are reducing nitrogen runoff from their farm and from those of their neighbors by enrolling 83 acres in the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program, thereby also becoming the first Illinois farmers to participate in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service's Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative. Last year the Jenkinses sold a portion of their family farm to DU so it could be restored and permanently protected as a waterfowl refuge and as a lasting conservation legacy for their family.
The Jenkinses' story was reinforced by Humphries' testimony on the critical nature of future conservation provisions in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill.
"Farmers and ranchers, conservationists and sportsmen and all citizens have much to gain from successful, sustainable farming that conserves soil, water and wildlife," Humphries testified before the committee. "The regional partnership program developed in the super committee report is a great idea that needs to find its way into this next Farm Bill. Regional partnerships fueled by local diverse interest groups and supported by federal, state and private funders are a key to accomplishing watershed approaches and solutions that will yield a good farm economy and a healthy, sustainable environment."
According to the USDA, lands in agricultural use total more than 922 million acres in the United States, covering approximately 40 percent of the nation's total land area. It is for this reason that the bulk of federal conservation funding resides in the Farm Bill.
Conservation funding is particularly important to waterfowl. The Farm Bill contains several important pieces of legislation supporting habitat, including the Wetlands Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Program and Grassland Reserve Program. These programs form the cornerstone of the voluntary, non-regulatory, incentive-based form of participation private landowners, farmers and ranchers use to protect and restore wetlands on their property.