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Several Iowa landowners opened their family farms Aug. 22, to highlight the importance of Farm Bill conservation programs to local producers.

Conservation programs are a hot topic when discussing the next Farm Bill, which Congress is expected to pass in the fall of 2018. The Farm Bill includes greater demand from farmers and ranchers to enroll in these conservation programs than available funding. Iowa landowner Cory Peterson gave Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) a tour of her family farm to highlight the importance of conservation to Iowa's farmers and ranchers.


Peterson is hoping Congress keeps conservation programs, like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), strong in the next Farm Bill. Peterson, along with Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, joined Ernst on the tour.


"The CRP program gave us an opportunity to enroll a farm that has a history of lower yields as result of consistently wet soils. We feel that this decision was the best for this land, for both economic and environmental reasons," said Peterson.


Ernst, as a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, will have a direct impact on the success of conservation programs in the next Farm Bill.


Ducks Unlimited supports an increase to the national CRP cap as well as expanded working lands options in the program. Ducks Unlimited supports maintaining conservation compliance and robust funding levels for other voluntary incentive-based programs like the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program.


"North America's nearly 50 million waterfowl rely on the food, shelter and nesting habitat on private lands across this country," said Ducks Unlimited's incoming Iowa State Chairman Brian Garrels. "The Farm Bill's conservation programs represent the single largest investment in private land conservation that this nation makes on an annual basis and Ducks Unlimited looks forward to continued work with our conservation partners in Congress to achieve a strong conservation title in the 2018 Farm Bill."


Ernst, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever also toured the family farm of Colton Meyer from Everly, Iowa. Meyer's father is a third-generation farmer and is familiar with the impact conservation programs have on a family farm and on the pheasants, deer and waterfowl he hunts.


"As a watershed coordinator, CRP is an excellent tool to reach the goals of the nutrient reduction strategy, when applied appropriately," Meyer said. "I know my dad sees the value CRP brings to his land by protecting his vulnerable acres, and we both get to enjoy the habitat as an added bonus by hunting pheasants, ducks and white tail deer."


Ryan Heiniger, director of agriculture and conservation innovations for Pheasants Forever, said they have seen historic demand for CRP and other conservation programs in Iowa and across the country.


"During the previous CRP sign-up period, Iowa farmers and landowners offered more than 2,300 contracts for enrollment. Only 401 were accepted," he said. "We should be sure that voluntary conservation programs remain strong in the Farm Bill so farmers and landowners can keep these vital conservation practices in place that benefit soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat for all Iowans."