FARM BILL: Testimony On Long-Term Cropland Adjustment | 1965



Summary: Testimony statement of Senator Gaylord Nelson to Senate Agriculture committee on S. 1702, a bill for a long-term cropland adjustment program to assist producers in diverting cropland to conservation uses, and for other purposes. Written by Roger Blobaum, staffer for Senator Gaylord Nelson.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity to submit testimony on S. 1702, the omnibus farm bill, and to offer comment and suggestions for change in the title providing long-term cropland adjustment.

Title V is of utmost importance because national farm policy is having a greater impact every year on recreation and wildlife resources.   About four-fifths of the land in the United States is in privately owned farms and ranches.   And about that same proportion of the game hunted each year is produced on those farms and ranches.

This situation creates an unusual opportunity for both the landowner, who needs more income, and the urban resident, who needs more recreation space.

The demand for recreational opportunity, based on availability of all kinds of outdoor resources, is creating so much pressure that most of this increasing demand will soon have to be met on private land. This is because of resistance to public land acquisition in many areas and lack of sufficient public money to buy and manage the recreation space that is needed.

The long-term cropland adjustment program introduced by the chairman of this committee offers a sound approach to two pressing national problems–the need for crop acreage cutbacks and the need for use of private land for recreation, hunting and forestry.

This committee has an excellent opportunity now to help establish national recreation policy and fashion a major public land use program. This is an opportunity to launch a program that could reverse the long­time downward trend in farm game populations.

Because of the importance of these policies, I want to offer some suggestions that you may wish to consider.

Experience with the original Soil Bank Program, adopted in 1956, provides the Congress with some guidance for dealing with the need for public benefits in land diversion and retirement programs.

I am sure this committee, for example, does not intend to finance diversion of substantial amounts of private lands without guarantees of substantial public benefits.

In the Soil Bank Program there were many instances where non-farm people, and some farmers leaving agriculture, had land paid for by the government that they used only for private recreation and specu­lation.   I know the committee is well aware that the aim of a diversion or retirement program should be both cropland cutbacks designed to reduce production and maximum public benefit.

We also should not finance these programs without insisting that landowners adopt cost-sharing soil and water conservation practices where needed.    Land is a national treasure and, whether retired or in production, should be carefully husbanded.

And we should not finance diversion or retirement of substantial amounts of private land without insisting on development of wildlife habitat and avoidance of practices that are detrimental to birds, animals and fish.

Nearly a million acres of cropland in good pheasant range were temporarily retired at one point in Wisconsin under the Soil Bank and Feed Grain programs.    Yet a study by the Wisconsin Conservation Department concluded that virtually none was essentially managed to provide nesting cover for pheasants.   Studies showed, however, that large numbers of pheasants would have been produced if nesting needs had been recognized and a few simple management practices adopted.

A wildlife biologist concluded the needed practices include: (1) establishment of permanent cover, such as grass-legume stands, to provide attractive nesting cover early in the spring; (2) either delayed clipping for weed control until after July 15 or no clipping at all; and (3) carefully interspersed cover to insure maximum availability to nesting hens.

Since entire farm units were abandoned under the Soil Bank Act, studies also were made to determine what happened to wildlife when farms were retired without habitat development or management.

A major quail study showed for example, that habitat improved in the first few years after a farm was abandoned. The land soon became covered by weeds and shrubs, and, when surrounded by inten­sively farmed areas, became ideal wildlife territory.    But eventually weedy fallow fields gave way to grass and trees and in the end became nearly foodless, semi-forest type areas. As this change took place, quail and pheasant disappeared.

These studies show that stopping cropping on farmland that is diverted or retired is not enough.   Some wildlife management is essential.

A number of wildlife organizations have been insisting that changes in farming are creating a pressing need for wildlife management in rural areas.    This growing concern is not prompted so much by the need for increasing hunting opportunity as it is to conserve farm game popula­tions in the face of increasingly intensive farming practices.

Normal land-use practices, they contend, are becoming unfavorable to wildlife in most parts of the United States, but particularly in the Midwest.   Two of our best game birds, the quail and the pheasant, are most severely affected.

The trend to more row crops such as corn and soybeans at the expense of small grains and hay is reducing the amount of these game bird nesting type covers.    The same result comes from the shift in crop rotation patterns from corn-oats-hay to continuous corn on highly fertile soils.    The amount of corn left standing or in shocks, as well as weed seeds have been sharply cut as a result of improvements in culture and harvesting equipment.    Corn pickers, for example, are being constantly improved to reduce dropped ears and shelled corn left in the field.

Cover for all types of wildlife also is reduced with destruction of woodlots and brushy fencerows, uncontrolled burning of marshland and other wild areas, drainage, indiscriminate spraying of weed and brush killers on fencerows and roadsides, and heavier grazing.

These wildlife organizations have a strong case.    It appears that the sportsmen from the city will soon have to look to properly-managed private lands if they are going to continue to have access to good hunting. And they are going to have to agree to provide an incentive for the farmers who provide that management and hunting access.    This cropland retire­ment program, if wildlife aspects are properly emphasized, can make that possible.

The alarm over declining farm game populations has led to careful studies documenting this problem.    The findings are not encouraging,

A 1963 study of population dynamics and habitat management of quail in prime range in Wisconsin showed present destruction of habitat, if continued at the present rate, will result in disappearance of this excellent game bird in many parts of the state in another 10 years. Quail have been declining in Wisconsin for many years.    The prime reason, the study concluded, has been the gradual reduction of hedgerow cover.

The study showed that the hedgerow cover required for maximum quail production was about a mile of 12-foot wide hedgerow for every 450 acres of farmland.    It could be along fencerows or roadsides.    There is no reason why the wildlife habitat programs on diverted or retired crop­land could not include hedgerow preservation and restoration.

Some of the hedgerow cover in Wisconsin now has not been totally destroyed but is de-brushed by spraying or cutting every few years.    Pre­serving and restoring hedgerow cover in the future would benefit not only quail but also other game birds, animals such as cottontail rabbits, songbirds, and beneficial insects.    It also is a good soil and water con­servation practice.

An analysis of Title V by the Department of Agriculture shows the proposed program now before this committee would permit cost-sharing for extensive planting of trees, shrubs,  and permanent, high-quality grasses and legumes on these lands to provide wildlife habitat.    It also would permit the government to consider higher land rental payments to farmers agreeing to open their land to public hunting and other specific recreational activities.

I would recommend that the committee go a step further and guarantee that all the desirable practices are carried out on at least some of this diverted land in every state.    I would recommend that it do this by offering, through state fish and game agencies, a special incentive payment to farmers agreeing to adopt carefully-planned wildlife habitat programs and to open their lands to the public.    This state-supervised and federally-financed payment would be in addition to the regular land rental payment and any ACP cost-sharing involved.

I am preparing for introduction next week an amendment to Title V to authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to transfer funds to state fish and game agencies for payment of these small “wildlife service payments.” These payments would be for farmers certified by the state agencies as wildlife cooperators in this important public land-use program.

These wildlife cooperators, when certified by the state fish and game agencies, would be paid for carrying out some practices and for avoiding others.    The state program of practices for cooperators would be determined by the type habitat development required for maximum wildlife benefits in the state involved.

In Wisconsin, for example, the cooperators might be required to refrain from cutting hedgerows in quail range or spraying them with brush killer.    They probably would be required to observe strict mowing regulations so as not to disturb nesting of game birds.   And they probably would have to provide some wildlife food patches to minimize winter starvation.

The practices in Louisiana, Vermont or South Dakota would be different.    These refinements would be determined by the state fish and game agencies, which have experience with state problems and conditions and primary responsibility for habitat development and main­tenance.    The federal government would provide basic guidelines, require public access of wildlife cooperators in all instances, and finance the small wildlife service payments for cooperators.

Because of the growing need for emphasizing wildlife benefits in farm programs, I also feel the Secretary of Agriculture needs a more formal system of obtaining information in this area.    And the wildlife organizations and state fish and game agencies need a better system of access to USDA policymakers.

I am preparing for introduction next week a second amendment to Title V that would establish a permanent advisory committee to the Secretary to make recommendations annually on wildlife matters.    It would be appointed by the Secretary to advise and consult on matters relating to the long-term cropland retirement program.    This Advisory Board on Wildlife would be made up of 12 persons chosen from members of wildlife organizations, farm organizations, state fish and game agencies, and the general public.