Now in its third version, an online game developed by Iowa State University lets students learn about land-use concepts by mixing crops and conservation practices on a simulated 6,000-acre watershed, says Wallaces Farmer magazine. Professor Lisa Schulte-Moore, leader of the team that developed the game, People in Ecosystems Watershed Integration (PEWi), says the new version has more options than previous editions.
To get long-lasting benefits, USDA should pursue land easements, rather than pay billions of dollars to landowners who abandon a short-term commitment to land stewardship whenever commodity prices boom, says the Environmental Working Group.
Congress has adjusted the enrollment cap on the Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners an annual rent to idle fragile land, in every farm bill since the program was created in 1985. With commodity prices in a trough, there are calls for a sizable increase in the reserve, a step that could affect wheat production far more than corn or soybeans according to a back-of-the-envelope estimate.
Enrollment in the Conservation Reserve, the largest land-idling program in the United States with 23.9 million acres under contract, is becoming dominated by high-priority practices, such as filter strips along waterways and habitat restoration for wildlife. The USDA says it accepted three times as much fragile land in three years through the continuous signup option as it did in the first "general" signup, open to all landowners.
The Conservation Reserve, the largest U.S. land-idling program, has shrunk to its smallest size since the late 1980s, when it was only a couple of years old. With low commodity prices forecast for years into the future, putting a pinch on farm income, economist David Widmar says a proposal to expand the reserve, which pays landowners an annual rent in exchange for retiring fragile farmland for 10 years or longer, "is likely to capture broad political appeal."
USDA says it saw the strongest competition among landowners in the 30-year history of the Conservation Reserve when it held the first "general" signup in three years. There were 26,000 offers totaling 1.8 million acres to idle cropland in exchange for an annual payment.
Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against 20 private dairy and beef farms in Northern California’s Point Reyes National Seashore, claiming they are destroying wildflowers, "eroding coastal bluffs and polluting creeks while the park stands littered with muddy feedlots, waste pits and trailers for ranch hands,” reports The San Francisco Chronicle.
Lawmakers in Utah announced on Monday that they’re poised to sue the federal government for control of 31 million acres of public land, according to an AP report in The Spectrum.
The Agriculture Department announced a four-year plan to nearly double, to 8 million acres, conservation projects in 11 states in the West to improve habitat for the greater sage-grouse.