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Thune's ninth farm bill proposal focuses on CRP, rural water

WASHINGTON -- Improvements to the Conservation Reserve Program could be on the horizon. U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, unveiled his ninth farm bill proposal on Friday, one meant to increase the usefulness of the popular program. The propos...

U.S. Sen. John Thune speaks to a crowd in 2017 at Dakotafest in Mitchell. (Republic file photo)
U.S. Sen. John Thune speaks to a crowd in 2017 at Dakotafest in Mitchell. (Republic file photo)

WASHINGTON - Improvements to the Conservation Reserve Program could be on the horizon.

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, unveiled his ninth farm bill proposal on Friday, one meant to increase the usefulness of the popular program. The proposal would authorize the secretary of agriculture to designate areas of economic sensitive as priority areas for CRP allocations, allow the prioritizing of CRP in areas where there's actual and significant declining habitat and expands limited grazing on CRP acres, among other items.

"Pheasant, grouse and quail hunting provides a significant boost to state economies around the country, and these states have the habitat created by CRP to thank for it in many cases," Thune said in a press release. "Unfortunately, many of these game species' populations have been dropping, and there's an alarming correlation between that and declines in CRP acreage and loss of habitat."

Thune's proposal would also define species of economic significance as "a wildlife species to which CRP is critical to maintaining its habitat," as determined by the secretary of agriculture and after a governor of a state verifies the species provides more than $150 million in annual economic value.

"Building on changes I've already proposed that would help farmers and ranchers better manage and utilize CRP, this legislation would include 'declining habitat for wildlife species of economic significance' as a priority purpose for targeting new or expanded CRP acres," Thune said.

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The proposal also has an impact on rural water system assistance by prohibiting the U.S. Forest Service from charging a rental fee through a conditional use agreement when rural water system lines cross Forest Service land.

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