“We’re grateful to the Mississippi congressional delegation for holding together and voting against the Kind Amendment,” says, Chip Morgan, executive director of Delta Council in Stoneville, Miss.

However, he says, “It troubles us that there was a less than 30-vote difference in the voting. It also troubles us that some of the organizations that classify themselves as conservation organizations would fight against farmers and farm income.”

The amendment, written by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., would have paid farmers to idle environmentally sensitive land and would have expanded the land eligible for the Conservation Reserve Program from 34 million acres to 45 million acres. It would have also provided as much as $500 million annually to farmers near urban areas that pledge not to sell land to developers.

All total, the Kind amendment’s “working land stewardship” plan would spend a total of $3 billion a year, or $30 billion over the life of the 10-year farm bill on land, water and wildlife conservation.

The effort to reduce the level of farm support in the House Agriculture Committee’s proposed farm bill in favor of spending for conservation programs was rejected by a 226 to 200 vote.

Morgan says the close vote concerns Delta Council since Congress will likely still be debating a farm bill in 2002. There is also the likelihood that the Kind amendment, or a similar amendment, may later find its way back into the farm bill debate.

“It concerns us that vote against the Kind amendment was far too close to have the importance it does to a segment of the economy that is on its knees financially,” he says. “A developed and profitable agriculture is the best conservation program possible. If you look at the under-developed nations with their underdeveloped agricultural industries what you will most exclusively find is that conservation is a non-entity.”

Many farm organization leaders expect any even stronger push for conservation measures when the Senate Agriculture Committee begins drafting its farm bill.

“If we debate a farm bill in the Senate this year, we’ve clearly got our work cut out for us,” said Delta Council’s Morgan. “These groups that have been characterized as conservation organizations will certainly be coming to the Senate to fight for the very same things they supported in the Kind Amendment brought before the House.”

Although grassroots organizations like Delta Council and the Farm Bureau Federation are in favor of increasing funding for some conservation programs they urged their membership to voice their objections to the Kind amendment.

On the flip side of the coin, groups that also boast large farm memberships, including Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation, have been busy lobbying Congress in favor of the Kind Amendment. Both groups are on the record in favor of shifting government funding from commodity programs to the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program.

E-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com