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"President Trump's proposed budget would deal a heavy blow to farmland conservation by shutting down offices that serve farmers, a group that helps farmers draft land-saving plans said today. "That would be absolutely devastating to voluntary conservation. It basically wouldn't happen," said Whitney Forman-Cook, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Conservation Districts, which represents county-level offices that work with farmers to encourage the use of cover crops, reduced tillage and other measures. The Trump budget outline released yesterday calls for staff reductions in Department of Agriculture local offices, in part to "encourage private sector conservation planning." It proposes an overall reduction of 20.7 percent in USDA spending for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, and the administration said more details would come this spring...Although the document doesn't specifically say offices would be closed, Forman-Cook said it seems to adopt the approach of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which in February called for eliminating the conservation technical assistance program as part of a broad proposal on federal spending. "Private landowners, not government, are the best stewards of a given property. If necessary, they can seek private solutions to conservation challenges," Heritage said in that report. "Federal taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize advice that private (and public) landowners should be paying for on their own." Some farm groups criticized any movement toward private conservation. The National Young Farmers Coalition said it would "threaten rural economies over the long-term." Closures of county-level USDA offices have been a sore point in Congress for several years and have been proposed by previous administrations, including the Obama administration. Congress has blocked such closures through a moratorium attached to annual appropriations."

Posted March 17th, 2017
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