Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  U.S. Senator John Thune today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to reconsider the Farm Service Agency request from South Dakota that would enroll 20,000 additional acres in the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program. The USDA recently denied the original request.

"South Dakota landowners have stepped up to participate in this important conservation program," said Thune. "Our state reaps considerable ecological and economic benefit from responsible conservation practices that provide critical habitat for pheasants and other species, and the SAFE program is a vital part of that effort. USDA erred in denying the South Dakota Farm Service Agency's original request, and I urge Secretary Vilsack to reconsider that decision."

The SAFE program was created by the 2008 Farm Bill. South Dakota was originally allocated 20,000 acres, and promptly received 30,000 more when the program was readily embraced by South Dakota landowners.

In his letter, Senator Thune emphasizes the need for additional SAFE acres in South Dakota in light of the 232,000 acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that are set to expire on September 30, 2009. Less than 30 percent of the expiring CRP acres will be eligible for renewal.

"The success achieved through conservation programs in South Dakota must be continued," added Thune. "The expiring CRP contracts make the approval of additional SAFE acres and other continuous CRP options even more urgent."

The text of Senator Thune's letter follows:

June 9, 2009

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence SW
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I write today with regards to the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program, also known as CP-38.

Since its inception in 2008, the SAFE program has proven to be an effective and popular conservation program. Continuous sign-up conservation programs such as SAFE are valuable tools for protecting marginal land, encouraging sound conservation practices, and preserving critical habitat for high-priority species. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should be commended for establishing an effective voluntary conservation program that advances the important goal of biodiversity.

South Dakota was originally allotted 20,000 acres based on the state's share of nationwide cropland. I was proud to work with USDA officials as South Dakota signed the first SAFE contract in Trent, South Dakota, on June 27, 2008. Since then, landowners in South Dakota have fully embraced this program. Within months, South Dakota enrolled the entire first allocation of 20,000 acres, and has since received and obligated an additional 30,000 SAFE acres.

Due to high producer demand, South Dakota's unique position on the western edge of the Corn Belt, and the economic and ecological importance of pheasant habitat in our state, South Dakota's State Farm Service Agency recently requested an additional 20,000 acres through the SAFE program. Unfortunately, USDA has declined this request. Producers, policymakers, and state and federal government agencies must work together to allocate finite resources in a manner that gives the taxpayer the greatest value and the environment the greatest benefit. I believe we have exceptional conservation and wildlife habitat needs and additional SAFE acres in South Dakota would certainly advance the national objective of protecting high priority species. I respectfully request that you reconsider South Dakota's request for additional SAFE acres.

On September 30, 2009, approximately 232,000 CRP acres in South Dakota are set to expire. I am pleased that some producers will soon have the opportunity to extend their contracts, and I encourage you to publish a timetable for the next general CRP sign-up as soon as possible and communicate with producers on eligibility requirements. Unfortunately, less than 30 percent of the expiring acres in South Dakota will be eligible for extension under USDA's recent announcement. This makes the additional SAFE acres all the more important as producers look for ways to protect highly erodible land and critical wildlife habitat. Much of this marginal land, which would otherwise be reenrolled in CRP or enrolled in a continuous program such as SAFE, could be placed into production without a viable alternative. Additionally, maximizing the use of continuous CRP programs to offset expiring acres lost through expiring CRP acres is reinforced by the Conference Report to the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-234), which stated:

"Additionally, as general CRP contracts expire, the Managers encourage the enrollment of those acres in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) and the continuous CRP. The Managers expect that the Department will use incentive payments, promotional efforts, and agreements with the third parties mentioned above to ensure that the portions of general signup acreages that can be maintained in the program will be enrolled through continuous CRP."

I thank you for your prompt attention to this request, and I look forward to working with you on this and other issues that are important to conserving America's natural resources.


United States Senate