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America's 'Radical Elders' continue their work for fairness, justice; SCOTUS upholds law disarming domestic abusers; Workplace adoption benefits help families, communities; Report examines barriers to successful post-prison re-entry in NC.

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A congresswoman celebrates Biden protections for mixed status families, Louisiana's Ten Commandments law faces an inevitable legal challenge, and a senator moves to repeal the strict 19th century anti-obscenity and anti-abortion Comstock Act.

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Rural educators say they need support to teach kids social issues, rural businesses can suffer when dollar stores come to town, prairie states like South Dakota are getting help to protect grasslands and a Minnesota town claims the oldest rural Pride Festival.

Report: Still Room for Growth Under Ag Conservation Programs

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Tuesday, March 7, 2023   

There are longstanding federal programs that help farmers adopt climate-friendly practices in working their land. But a new report says despite some recent progress, support for too many producers in Minnesota and elsewhere remains out of reach. The latest findings from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy show that applicants awarded contracts under the Conservation Stewardship Program increased from 18 percent in 2020 to nearly 25 percent in 2022. But 3 out of every 4 applicants to those two programs are still rejected.

Adam Griebie, a farmer in west-central Minnesota, said going through the application process is labor intensive, time consuming and, often, an uphill battle.

"It almost feels like I could hire a full-time assistant just to help through the process. It can be a time-consuming and, at times, a frustrating process," he said.

The report's authors say some of that might have to do with regional USDA offices being understaffed. The IATP reported Minnesota has awarded more program contracts than any other state since 2010, but of those that applied last year, only 8% were approved. Researchers and advocates say doubling the amount of conservation funding in the upcoming Farm Bill would go a long way towards addressing demand.

The Inflation Reduction Act did set aside roughly $20-billion for conservation agriculture.

Michael Happ a program associate on Climate and Rural Communities at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policies, said that is an important step but suggests more long-term stable funding is needed so that farmers maintain certain practices amid a changing climate.

He added additional tracking would help ensure whether these programs are reaching historically disadvantaged farmers the way they were designed to.

"We could go a lot further in making sure these programs are accessible to small farmers, farmers of color, farmers that don't have a whole lot of resources," Happ said.

He added that is especially important in states like Minnesota, where Hmong farmers are helping to make the state's agricultural sector more diverse. Some Republicans in Congress have proposed diverting conservation funds, including the extra IRA aid, to other agricultural needs. There is concern that debate will lead to delays in approving the Farm Bill, putting even more stress on existing programs, including ones highlighted in the new access report.

Debate on the Farm Bill is scheduled to begin in September.


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