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Farmers targeted at Pheasant Fest

The Associated Press

Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. - Exhibitors at the recent National Pheasant Fest weren't just geared toward hunting but to land conservation and farming practices as well.

Holding a presence with gun dealers, taxidermists and outfitters were vendors who represented tractor companies, seeding and discing implements, grass seed, tree nurseries, farm management firms and landowner associations.

Also present were U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies such as the Farm Service Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, whose representatives were available to talk to farmers and ranchers about programs that improve wildlife habitats.

The importance groups such as Pheasants Forever play in agriculture was emphasized with the visit of James Little, top administrator for the Farm Service Agency.

"We're coming out to see what our Conservation Reserve Program is doing for wildlife habitats," Little told the Omaha World-Herald. "We're really wanting to work with environmental groups, conservationists and hunters to make CRP more responsive."

Contracts for more than 22 million acres of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program could potentially expire by 2008, unless there is a push to re-enroll those acres or enroll other properties. Budget concerns aside, Little said, President George W. Bush has publicly endorsed ensuring the CRP acreage keeps its full enrollment of about 35 million acres nationally.

Jerry and Jan Greenwood of Chadron market trees to government agencies for the USDA's Bessey Nursery in Halsey, Neb., the oldest nursery in the U.S. Forest Service. Farmers and ranchers in the state make up their largest customer base through government-funded programs. The trees they sell serve as protection for pheasants in the wild.

"If they don't have the habitat, they won't have the animals," Jerry Greenwood said. "(Pheasants) need that cover."

Loren Johnson, a real-estate agent for Agri-Affiliates, a real-estate and land management company in North Platte, said that in Nebraska, "most of the recreation land comes with a farm or ranch attached to it."

The Kearney-based ag economic development group KAAPA conducted surveys of farmers and ranchers attending Pheasant Fest on their interest in agri-tourism opportunities. The group was looking to develop a rural-hospitality network that would go beyond just offering hunting grounds.

"We knew the right people would be here to survey the resources and the tourists," said Margery Lauer, KAAPA's executive director.

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