LETTER: Loss of CRP could bring another Dust Bowl to SDFor those who tremble at the federal debt load they are leaving to their children may be added a decline in water quality, fewer wildlife and (I hope not) the “Dirty Teens.”
By: Robert Tatina, Mitchell
To the Editor:
About 80 years ago, South Dakota was in the grips of a prolonged drought during which huge clouds of soil particles moved like storms across the state. The intensive and extensive cropping of the land exacerbated the effects of this drought, forcing many to lose the land that they farmed while making others severely ill. The recent drought, the conversion of CRP acres to row crops and the plowing of sloughs worry me, as does the loss of so many shelter belts planted after the Dirty Thirties to slow the wind and prevent soil loss.
When the Conservation Reserve Program was made part of the farm bill in the 1980s, its purposes were to 1) reduce the grain glut and thereby raise commodity prices, and 2) remove marginally arable land from being cropped. Those farmers who enrolled land in the program were paid to plant grass on CRP acres. This was a sweet deal, for it had side benefits that were enormous — wildlife habitat (for pheasants in South Dakota), a filter to remove fertilizer runoff from entering lakes and streams (the cause of foul-smelling alga blooms like those that occur annually in Lake Mitchell and most, if not all, ponds and lakes in eastern South Dakota) and a buffer against wind and water erosion of lands that are marginally productive.
Currently, CRP acres are no longer needed to shore up grain prices; the world population and the conversion of corn to ethanol have done that. In addition, the current set-aside payment for CRP acres is not competitive with grain prices. What’s worse is that under the current national debt crisis, Congress probably will be unwilling to increase funding for CRP, especially in the onslaught of lobbying by grain, meat and agri-chemical organizations.
How perverse that we consider short-term financial gains, when there may be long-term dire consequences. For those who tremble at the federal debt load they are leaving to their children may be added a decline in water quality, fewer wildlife and (I hope not) the “Dirty Teens.”