Delta Waterfowl President Rob Olson says that Congress needs to pass the federal Farm Bill before the April 18th deadline expires and that lawmakers should make conservation funding a high priority.

“Congress extended the Farm Bill, but time is running out before it expires,” says Olson. “If a new bill isn’t passed, or if there is a long-term extension of the current law, conservation funding is going to take a dramatic hit, particularly some of our most important programs for migratory waterfowl. It’s critical that Delta Waterfowl members and others contact their elected officials in the House and Senate and tell them to pass a new Farm Bill, one that significantly increases conservation funding. I can’t stress enough how important this is to the future of ducks and duck hunting.”

Olson says three programs in particular are vital to sustaining the long-term future of duck production in the U.S. portion of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), the nation’s duck factory:

1) The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)—which pays farmers to idle marginal cropland and plant it to grass for the duration of 10- to 15-year contracts—has fueled duck production on the prairie breeding grounds. In fact, research conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Habitat and Population Evaluation Team showed that CRP in the Dakotas and Montana has added 2 million additional ducks each year to the fall flight since 1992. “In 2007 alone, more than 800,000 CRP acres were lost in the Dakotas and Montana, thanks in large part to high commodity prices and increased demand for corn-based ethanol,” says Olson, adding that additional CRP losses will occur in the years ahead. “Any new Farm Bill must include language that makes CRP rental rates more competitive with farm rental rates and what a producer can earn by planting a crop. We know farmers love CRP. They just want to be fairly compensated, and Congress has the power to make that happen.”

2) Sodsaver, a proposal supported by the Bush administration, would eliminate federal commodity subsidy payments for any agricultural production that breaks native grasslands. “Delta whole-heartedly supports Sodsaver, although we’re hearing that some in Congress are trying to water-down the provision, which is short-sighted and tragic,” says Olson. “Since 2002, the Prairie Pothole Region has lost hundreds of thousands of acres of native prairie to agricultural production. That’s a lot of lost nesting cover. Congress should not reward farmers for destroying native prairie that should never have been put to the plow in the first place.”

3) Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) would provide financial incentives to producers to protect grasslands important for waterfowl production. “Right now there’s no funding for Grasslands Reserve Program unless a new Farm Bill is passed,” Olson says. “We need to keep this important grasslands program solvent.”